Instant Pot Sour Cabbage Rolls – Holubtsi

Sour cabbage rolls ready to go into the oven

Yet another variant of holubchi (holubtsi, golubchi, golubtsi, Голубцы).  There are as many ways to spell cabbage rolls as there are to make them.  These are vegetarian-vegan – it’s what I made for Christmas Eve.  If you’re looking for meat then check out my recipe for Instant Pot Buckwheat and Pork Cabbage Rolls

This uses sour cabbage which you can either spend a few weeks making in a barrel – or buy a sour cabbage head at a grocery store.

A whole head of sour cabbage sealed in plastic from the storeJump straight to the recipe

No sour cabbage head? Check out my recipe for vegetarian cabbage rolls made with green cabbage.  Want meat? It’s buckwheat and pork cabbage rolls.

My grandparents would be horrified at how much I spent on a sour cabbage head.  They lived in the city but grew their own cabbages in their backyard.  In a giant rain barrel, they shredded some of the cabbages and layered in cored cabbage heads to turn into sauerkraut and sour cabbage heads.

Here it is: I spent $17 on this head of sour cabbage.

I had been looking for sour cabbage for a few weeks in different grocery stores, and no one seemed to have any.  When I finally found it, I grabbed the biggest one not really thinking about how they’re sold by weight. I do not regret this – sour cabbage rolls are amazing.

It’s also easier because there’s no need to steam the cabbage head to soften the leaves.

Start off with the filling.  Again, I’m using sushi rice because it holds together so incredibly well.  If you can’t find sushi rice, use pearl or short grain white rice.  After rinsing the rice until the water runs clear, add it into the Instant Pot.  I’m using equal parts of liquid to rice – but half of the liquid is tomato juice (or V8 juice).One cup of tomato juice hovering over rice in an Instant Pot

I’m not a huge tomato-flavour fan.  If you wanted to replace all the water with tomato juice – go right ahead. Twelve minutes on low pressure with the Rice setting and wait 10 minutes after cooking before releasing the pressure.

Cooked rice with a reddish hue from the tomato juice stirred with parsley being mixed in

While that rice is going, open up the sour cabbage head package in the sink. There’s water in there so place the cabbage in a colander.  Once the cabbage is drained, discard the weird plastic lining and rinse-rinse-rinse the cabbage.  I take the core out of the cabbage – using a small knife and a melonballer to get out the middle.  Rinse out the inside!

A whole cabbage head with about 2 inches of the core removed

Now, peel the cabbage apart and stack the cabbage leaves into a cabbage leaf tower.  You’ll start making the cabbage rolls with the smallest leaves and save the largest leaves for the top and bottom.

Cabbage leaves stacked into a bowl in a non-uniform cabbage pyramid

And, you’re ready to roll.  The smaller leaves may lend themselves to making single cabbage rolls.  Larger leaves may need to be halved.  In both cases, it’s easier to roll if you discard or minimize the stem.

Slicing the stem out of the cabbage leaf with a paring knife

Take a small knife and trim the thicker part of the leaf.  It’s easier if you can flatten the leaf out on your cutting board and trim to the outside with the knife flat and parallel to the board.

Rice filling formed into a tight ball inside a small cabbage leaf

Place a 2 tablespoon ball of the rice mixture onto the cabbage leaf. Fold about a quarter inch of the length onto the ball.  Fold the sides of the leaf in.

A partially rolled cabbage roll that needs about half a turn more

Then roll forward while gently squeezing to remove any air pockets.  Place it seam side down in a greased casserole.

A casserole dish filled with finished sour cabbage rolls

At this point, you can freeze the casserole if you’re making this ahead.  Thaw in the fridge the day before you want to bake them.  Then, pour over the tomato (or V8) juice and bake.

Cooking in the Instant Pot

If you’re making them in the Instant Pot, you’ll take the saved stems and larger leaves.  Use the rack to create a bottom layer and pour 1 cup of water in the bottom of the Instant Pot.  Layer the stems on top of the rack and make a base with the larger cabbage leaves.  Then, arrange the cabbage rolls on top.  Add the tomato juice on top.  Check out what this looks like in my recipe for regular cabbage rolls.

Seal the Instant Pot up and cook on Manual using low pressure for 30 minutes.  Wait at least 10 minutes before releasing the pressure.

Cooking in the oven

If you’re making this ahead, I think it’s easier to thaw and pour the tomato juice over top and bake in the oven.  It’s what I did this last Christmas Eve because it was just one more item in the oven.  The cooking time is about 2 hours at 325°F.

Special equipment

  • Instant Pot
  • Instant Pot steam insert (if you’re cooking in the Instant Pot)
  • Casserole dish (if you’re cooking in the oven)
  • Colander
  • Paring knife
  • Melonballer

Time saved

  • Half an hour saved if you use my recipe for  Instant Onions
  • Cooking the rolls in the Instant Pot will save about 1 hour of time in the oven

Instant Pot Sour Cabbage Rolls - Holubtsi

Cabbage rolls made even better with sour cabbage. And, two cooking methods - finishing in the Instant Pot or in the oven.
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 2 hrs
Total Time 3 hrs
Course Casserole
Cuisine Ukrainian-Canadian
Servings 8 servings


  • 1 sour cabbage head
  • 4 cups tomato or V8 juice


  • 1 cup chopped cooked onions
  • 2 cups sushi rice or short grained white rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup tomato or V8 juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh or dried parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Rinse the rice until the water runs clear - up to 10 minutes. Drain and combine with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of tomato juice in the Instant Pot.
  • Set the Instant Pot to 12 minutes on Low pressure manually or using the Rice setting. Wait 10 minutes before releasing the pressure.
  • Combine the cooked rice with 1 cup of cooked onions. Add salt and pepper to taste and 2 Tablespoons parsley.
  • While the rice is cooking, open the sour cabbage head and rinse it well.
  • Remove the core using a knife and remove thicker parts of the inner core using a melonballer.
  • Peel apart the leaves - making sure you reserve a few of the larger leaves.
  • Remove the thicker portion of the stem on smaller leaves. Cut larger leaves in half while removing the stem.
  • Squeeze 2 to 3 tablespoons of the rice filling into a tight ball. Moisten your hands to avoid the rice sticking.
  • Place the ball of rice on the inside of the prepared cabbage leaves.
  • Roll as described above.


  • Line a casserole dish with layers of the cabbage rolls.
  • Pour over tomato juice so that all of the cabbage rolls are covered. Place reserved large cabbage leaves on top to prevent burning.
  • Bake at 325°F for 2 hours.

Instant Pot

  • Insert the rack for steaming in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom.
  • Layer the reserved large cabbage leaves on top.
  • Arrange the cabbage rolls on top of the cabbage leaves. Pour the tomato juice over top.
  • Set the Instant Pot to Manual with Low Pressure for 30 minutes.
  • Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes then release the pressure.







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