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Ukrainian Duck Golubtsy and Red Beet Risotto

by Florian
Ukrainian Duck Golubtsy and Red Beet Risotto

With the holiday season now upon us, I’d like to once again plug my cookbook, The Goulash Archipelago. Yes, it’s written in French, but A) Amazon France ships worldwide, B) the book boasts over 300 superb pictures and an outstanding design, and C) most people make only a couple of recipes from cookbooks they own, so even if you don’t speak French and never prepare a single one of the dishes, you won’t fall too far below the average! If you do speak French (or merely have a translation app on your phone), you will find plenty of recipes that will delight your guests for end-of-year celebrations: foie gras, caviar, king crab, decadent salads and soups, game birds, massive steaks, intriguing cakes – it’s all there! As a teaser, here’s a recipe from the chapter on Ukraine and Moldova that nicely complements my recent posts on waterfowl hunting: stuffed cabbage, aka golubtsy, made with duck meat and served with a red beet risotto and goat cheese sauce.

Whether it’s called golubtsy in Russian, holubtsi in Ukraine, or sarmale in Moldovan, stuffed cabbage is found in all Eastern European cuisines. The dish originates from Turkey (sarmak means “to wrap” in Turkish) and was first prepared with vine leaves stuffed with rice and minced lamb (what we now usually call a dolma). When it spread through the Ottoman Empire, Ukraine, and Russia, ingredients were adapted for local products – cabbage and pork replacing vine leaves and lamb, for example. In the 18th century, the Russians decided to call the dish golubtsy, in reference to the grilled pigeons (pigeon is golub in Russian) popularized by French cuisine. Why? Because they have the same shape, of course! If you don’t see it, just have another shot of vodka.

Preparing cabbage for golbutsy
Preparing cabbage for golbutsy – Drawing by O. I. Miklovda, published in Ukrainian Cuisine, Technika Publishers, Kiev, 1975

Ukraine counts many golubtsy recipes. Depending on the region, the wrapper consists of a leaf of cabbage (whole or cut into pieces), chard, or vine, and the filling a mixture of potato, corn, or buckwheat combined with fried onions, pork crackling, or ground meat. The bundles are simmered in a tomato or cream and mushroom sauce. The dish appears in everyday and festive meals alike. In the Soviet Union, one recipe gradually took precedence over all the others: a cabbage leaf stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat, cooked in tomato juice.

In Moldova, sarmale are served for special occasions and are very similar to this last variant. Ground pork is mixed with onions and rice and stuffed in a cabbage leaf, sometimes with the addition of sauerkraut or smoked pork. The resulting bundles are cooked in a tomato-based sauce, with or without dill.

The golubtsy I’ve created here aren’t like any regional version. With their bright and contrasting colors, they take the opposite approach from the washed cabbage, reminiscent of proletarian canteens, that I have too often seen in New York restaurants (for example here and here, if you want me to name names). All the basic ingredients – cabbage leaf, rice, minced meat – are present, but not always where you expect them. And since Ukraine produces goat cheese nowadays, I’m using some to make a sauce that takes us further away from Soviet kitchen clichés.

Ukrainian Duck Golubtsy and Red Beet Risotto

Yields 4 servings
Total preparation: 4 hours
Active preparation: 1 hour 20 minutes

Ukrainian Duck Golubtsy and Red Beet Risotto

Stuffed cabbage

100 g peeled onion, sliced
4 g peeled garlic, thinly sliced
35 g butter
0.4 g ground star anise
55 g baguette without crust, small dice
360 g duck breast without the skin
120 g duck skin
6 g salt, plus some to blanch the cabbage
0.5 g black pepper, ground
10 g chives, minced
5 large green cabbage leaves
pinch of baking soda
25 g (less than 1) egg white, beaten

  • In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic with 1/3 of the butter until soft and golden brown. Mix in the star anise and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
  • In the same saucepan still over medium heat, sauté the diced bread in the rest of the butter until brown on all sides. Transfer to another bowl and let cool.
  • Remove all the silverskin from the duck breast, then cut the meat and skin into large dice. Grind together with the onion and garlic using the large die of a meat grinder. Season with the salt and pepper, then grind again using the small die. Combine the mixture with the bread and chives in a bowl, and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour.
  • Blanch the cabbage leaves in salted boiling water with a pinch of baking soda until very soft, then shock in ice water. Pat the leaves dry. Remove and discard the large central ribs.
  • Brush the leaves with the egg white. Use the fifth leaf to patch over the areas of the other four leaves where the ribs were cut out, so that you get four nice discs of cabbage. Divide the stuffing between them (there should be about 135 g of stuffing in each one) and shape into quenelles, without packing too densely. Wrap each cabbage leaf around the stuffing, then wrap tightly in one or two layers of plastic film, shaping each bundle like a log. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The stuffed cabbage can be prepared one day in advance.
Ukrainian Duck Golubtsy and Red Beet Risotto

Goat cheese sauce

90 g fresh goat cheese
60 g crème fraîche
50 g butter

  • Place the goat cheese and crème fraîche in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until you have a homogenous sauce. Whisk in the butter, season with salt, and reserve.

Risotto base

135 g Arborio rice
15 g olive oil
black pepper, ground
135 g red wine
180 g chicken stock

  • Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold water.
  • Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the rice, and stir for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, add the red wine, and simmer over low heat until fully reduced.
  • Heat the chicken stock in a microwave, add half to the risotto, and simmer until almost completely reduced. Repeat with the remaining stock, then cover with a lid and reserve.

Crispy duck skin

skin from 1 duck breast, about 90 g

  • Place the skin between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound lightly with a meat pounder to make it a bit thinner.
  • Take the skin out from the plastic film and season with salt. Transfer to a baking tray lined with a silicone baking mat (or a piece of parchment paper), then cover with another mat and weight with a heavy oven dish or frying pan. Bake in a 230 C / 450 F for 20 minutes.
  • Let the skin cool on the tray, then reserve on a paper towel.
Ukrainian Duck Golubtsy and Red Beet Risotto


stuffed cabbage
150 g beet juice
risotto base
20 g walnut oil
15 g butter
25 g chicken stock, if needed
goat cheese sauce
crispy duck skin
about 5 g chives, chopped

  • Place a steamer basket (or a metal strainer) over a pot of boiling water. Steam the stuffed cabbage leaves for 15-25 minutes, until their internal temperature reaches 57 C / 135 F. The actual cooking time greatly depends on the exact shape and initial temperature of the food, so start checking after 15 minutes.
  • Warm the beet juice in a microwave, then add to a saucepan with the risotto base and simmer over medium heat until fully absorbed. Stir in the walnut oil and butter, and rectify the seasoning. At the last minute, if the risotto is too thick, add a bit of chicken stock. The risotto should easily be spread on a plate, not forming a lump.
  • Reheat the goat cheese sauce in a small saucepan over low heat.
  • Cut the crispy duck skin into four long strips.
  • Once cooked, unwrap the stuffed cabbage leaves and cut each one in half on a bias.
  • On each plate, spread some beet risotto in the center. Arrange two pieces of stuffed cabbage head to tail in the center, and pour some goat cheese sauce on top. Sprinkle with chives and place a strip of duck skin across. Serve.
Ukrainian Duck Golubtsy and Red Beet Risotto

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