Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Golabki: Polish Cabbage Rolls

Every Eastern European nation has its own version of stuffed cabbage rolls. Golabki, pronounced 'gowumpkie', is a traditional Polish favourite consisting of boiled cabbage leaves stuffed with ground beef, chopped onions and rice, simmered in a spicy tomato sauce and garnished with sour cream and fresh herbs. Golabki translates as "little pigeons" in Polish, because of their compact size and shape. In Russia, they're known as Golubtsy; in Ukraine they're called Holubtsi; and Hungarians refer to them as Töltött Káposzta. I call them heartwarming and delicious. 

This humble stuffed cabbage has a long history of satisfying appetites. There's an old story of King Casimir IV of Poland and the Gra
nd Duke of Lithuania feeding their troops a hearty meal of Golabki before going into battle, thus assuring victory over the enemy. Robust comfort food, Golabki are often served during the cold winter months, with mashed potatoes or egg noodles. And because cabbage rolls freeze really well, you can prepare a double batch and freeze half, with the promise of more delicious 'gowumpkies' at your fingertips. Smacznego!

Polish Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Serves 4-6

1 Savoy cabbage, core removed
2 tbsp olive oil or butter
1 yellow onion, minced
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground veal
1 1/2 cups rice or buckwheat groats*
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tbsp fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups homemade or good quality store-bought Tomato sauce
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Sour cream and chopped chives, for garnish

Carefully remove 10-12 large whole leaves from the savoy cabbage.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the cabbage leaves to the boiling water and blanch them for 3-5 minutes, or until they are just wilted. Remove the leaves to a colander and rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking process. Trim or lightly pound the large vein on the back of each leaf to make it flush with the surface of the leaf.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the oil or butter in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion until translucent, but not browned. Remove to a large bowl and let cool. Add the ground meats, rice, egg, dill, salt and pepper to the sautéed onions and mix well.

To make the rolls, lay a cabbage leaf out on a work surface, vein-side down, and put about 1/4 cup of meat filling in the middle. Fold the bottom of the leaf up over the filling, then fold each side in. Roll the leaf up loosely over the filling like an eggroll. Do not roll up the cabbage rolls too tightly, as the rice will expand as it cooks. Set aside and complete with rest of leaves until the filling is used up.

Mix the tomato sauce, stock, salt and pepper together. Place about 1/4 cup of the sauce on the bottom of a large casserole. Place all of the cabbage rolls, seam-side-down, tightly into the dish. Pour remaining sauce over the rolls.

Cover, place in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add water or stock to the dish as needed to keep it from drying out. The rice will soak up liquid as it cooks.

Serve hot from the dish, topped with a little sour cream and some chopped chives.

*COOK'S NOTE: Buckwheat is a wonderful gluten-free whole grain that's packed with nutrients, especially protein. It has a mild and earthy, nutty flavour and can replace rice or any other grain called for in recipes.