Recipes

Golumpki

September 24, 2015

Golumpki

Whenever someone tries to guess what my family background is, the first guess is “Italian!” 99.9999% of the time. And they would be 100% wrong. As far as I know, there is no Italian ancestry in me. I don’t fully know this for a fact because I’ve never actually seen a real family tree that traces back from me to the very, very beginning. In their defense, I’ve got dark features, took Italian language classes throughout high school and college and I’ve got a deep, deep love for Italian food. But that does not make me Italian. I don’t think. My origins are a bit more of a hodgepodge…as most third or fourth generations would be. On my mom’s side, there’s Irish and French-Canadian heritage. On my dad’s side is German and Polish. I’m also sure there’s some other stuff mixed in there…but that’s for me to find out one day down the road.

When you grow up as a mutt, you don’t always carry on every single tradition of your culture. I would assume this is because not everyone is Irish. Or not everyone is German. But there are certain things that bleed over and mix in with the rest. So instead of just growing up as a Polish-American, you get little bits of Polish tradition here and there mixed in with some German and then some Irish. So, in your little bubble of family life, it all ends up feeling pretty normal. That is until you grow up and go to school and start meeting people from all over and learn about the traditions they grew up with. It’s then you sort of realize just how special those special moments you grew up with actually were. That means not everybody would have a hardboiled egg war on Easter Sunday. Not every family would come home on St. Patricks day to a crock pot full of corned beef and cabbage. And not every family would have a heated debated over a Thanksgiving stuffing that nobody really liked except for three people. A stuffing that was referred to Irish Stuffing. A stuffing that had nothing to do with Ireland. A stuffing that was mashed potatoes, butter, liver and disgusting. A stuffing that I once brought up with a friend from Ireland who’s face grimaced at the very thought. A stuffing we will never talk about again.

On to the recipe at hand. Golumpki. Also known as Golabki. Also known as Stuffed Cabbage. (And about eight other names.) It’s a Polish dish. Meat and rice are rolled up in softened cabbage leaves and then baked in tomato sauce. (Think of it as a meatball, enriched with rice and enveloped with cabbage and then baked.) And it is simply one of the most delicious and comforting foods you can possibly eat. Our next door neighbor, Helen, was from Poland. I remember being outside playing among the autumn leaves in a giant sweater and you could smell something delicious coming from Helen’s kitchen (this is how I always picture fall…sweaters, leaves, cool weather and the smell of food…how accurate it actually is, I don’t know…just go with it…pretend). She would make Golumpki and pierogi from scratch quite often. And as neighbors, we’d always get a taste. If we had a party, Golumpki would show up. Is it the most glamorous food? Hardly. But comfort food doesn’t have to be.

Over the yard Helen would come, carrying a round glass casserole filled with Golumpki. She knew they were my favorite, so she always brought a lot over. Eating them fresh was fantastic. But I was that fat kid who would sneak into the fridge at night and eat them cold because I didn’t want anyone to know. They were still just as good. And then I’d have more the next day. And before you knew it, they were all gone. And sadness would set in.

So of course, once I really got into cooking and making things on my own, I set out to find the perfect recipe for making Golumpki. Have I ever thought to ask Helen for hers? Surprisingly, no. I’ve realized that you can’t always recreate a memory. But you can come close. Ingredients change, sometimes recipes aren’t actually followed. And sometimes, the journey of finding the perfect recipe to bring you back to your childhood is half the fun.

A number of years ago, I came across a recipe for Stuffed Cabbage. Remembering the mouth watering, flavorful Golumpki of my childhood, I decided to make it. It was pretty straightforward. Boil the cabbage and remove the leaves, cut out the stem. Then mix the filling, roll it up in the leaves, cover with sauce and bake. The ingredients seemed fairly simple too. At this point, I should mention it was an Ina Garten recipe. She’s basically my version of the Pope. She had never steered me wrong before. Although, there were raisins in the recipe. That was weird. So I left them out. I don’t think Helen’s Golumpki had raisins in it. But what do I know, I was 5…and 6…and 7…and 21…and 27…

Anyways, they smelled divine. I stared at the plump cabbage leaf rolled up and filled with meat and rice before me. The sauce glistened. As I prepared to cut into the veggie wrapped meatball, the taste of the Golumpki from so long ago was the only thing I could think of. And then I took that bite. And then…and then, I didn’t smile. And I suddenly felt as if Ina Garten had betrayed me. After all of our years together. She finally let me down. I didn’t start to cry. I wasn’t about to make a scene. At home. Alone. (I didn’t want the neighbors to hear.) After some time, I realized that Ina hadn’t eaten the Golumpki I had. She had raisins in her recipe! It wasn’t her fault. I couldn’t let it get between us.

Then I did something smart. I ordered a polish cookbook. Not one from Poland because I wouldn’t be able to read that and that would completely defeat the purpose, obvi. I ordered “The Art of Polish Cooking” by Alina Zeranska. It’s one of those cookbooks that has absolutely no pictures. There are no illustrations of the food. Just decorative drawings. There isn’t a lot of fluff. Just recipe after recipe after recipe. It’s the kind of cookbook that includes recipes for things that nobody eats like Ham Pudding or Liver Dumplings. But that’s how you know it’s (fairly) authentic. Basic recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. They’re all basic. A list of measured ingredients and a paragraph or two about how to prepare. Nothing too descriptive. So you better know what you’re doing.

As I scoured through the pages, there it was: Golumpki! Actually, in the book it was referred to as Golabki. But, it’s the same thing. The minute I read that it called for beef bouillon cubes and cream of tomato soup and DIDN’T call for raisins, I felt that this would be the closest to what I remembered. Something a bit more traditional. But then, I didn’t make it. A few years went by and I never even attempted another cabbage roll. And I don’t know exactly why. Maybe it was because I was scared of the gas. Or I was scared of letting myself down.

So this year, as Fall quickly approached and I was dreaming up recipes to make throughout the season, thinking about what I’ve made before, eaten before and what would be comforting, Golumpki came back into mind.Then it was research time. I have found the best thing to do is to look at a wide variety of recipes. Get a sense of what everyone else does. This will show you what the very basics are that everybody uses. What is the essence of the dish. You will get a truer sense of exactly what to do. And after that, you can sit down and craft a recipe that gets the essence of the dish and then enhances it.

And that’s what happened. In the end, these did not taste like Helen’s Golumpki. But I will say, they were close. But it wasn’t disappointing. I know I will never be able to recreate Helen’s, even with her own recipe. My mom could never quite master my grandmother’s macaroni & cheese…which was included on the box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese…the one my grandmother said was all she made. I guess kids (and adults) just have picky palates.


Golumpki (Stuffed Cabbage)
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My version of a traditional Polish dish that was (and still is) a favorite of mine growing up, otherwise known as Stuffed Cabbage.
Servings Prep Time
6-8 people 1.5 hours
Passive Time
1.5 hours
Servings Prep Time
6-8 people 1.5 hours
Passive Time
1.5 hours
Golumpki (Stuffed Cabbage)
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 2
Rating: 4.5
You:
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
My version of a traditional Polish dish that was (and still is) a favorite of mine growing up, otherwise known as Stuffed Cabbage.
Servings Prep Time
6-8 people 1.5 hours
Passive Time
1.5 hours
Servings Prep Time
6-8 people 1.5 hours
Passive Time
1.5 hours
Ingredients
Cabbage
Rice
Filling Flavor Boost
Sauce
Filling
Servings: people
Units:
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Remove the core from the head of cabbage (without cutting it in half) and place it in a large pot. Fill with water, remove the cabbage to a kitchen towel and bring the pot of water to a boil.
Rice
  1. Combine the beef broth, the rice, the butter and salt in a small pot. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Cover and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it stand, still covered for another 5. Fluff with a fork.
Cabbage
  1. Place the cabbage (carefully) back into the boiling water and let bathe away for at least 5 minutes. Use a wooden spoon and some tongs to hold the cabbage in place and peel back the outer leaves. If they have a lot of resistance, let it simmer a bit longer, otherwise they should just come right off. Place the leaves on a sheet pan and when you've got one layer, sprinkle with salt and then put more leaves on top, sprinkling with salt. Continue until you've barely got a cabbage left. Keep an eye on the heat. As you remove leaves and the cabbage shrinks, the water will boil more rapidly. Turn the heat down so that it doesn't boil and splash all over you.
Filling Flavor Boost
  1. Heat the butter in a sauce pan (with at least 2-inch sides) over medium heat. When nice and hot and bubbly, add in the onion and carrot and any juices that have collected. Season with salt and pepper and stir to coat everything. Stir frequently until the liquid has evaporated. Turn the heat down to medium and add in the garlic and cook for another minute until it becomes very fragrant. Add in the worcestershire and the paprika and stir to combine. Clear a spot amidst all the vegetables so all you see is bare pan. Add the vegetable oil to that spot and wait for it to get hot (about 30 seconds). Drop (or squeeze) the tomato paste right onto the hot oil and let it sizzle for about 30 seconds. Stir it in to the hot oil. Then mix it in with everything else and cook for 1–2 minutes. Scrape everything out of the pan and put the pan back on the stove top.
Sauce
  1. In that same sauce pan, pour in the tomato sauce. Rinse each can out with beef stock and add all that goodness to the pan. Now you can go ahead and throw in thyme, oregano, brown sugar, bouillon and salt. Use a whisk to combine and bring it up to a simmer. Whisk in the sour cream and turn off the heat.
Filling
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked rice (you should have about a cup), the ground meats, the egg, the dried porcini, the breadcrumbs, the salt and the pepper. Use your hands or a fork to combine. Try your best not to mash it all down into oblivion.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Let's go back to the cabbage leaves. Each big leaf will have a thick stem in the middle of it. Cut that part out (like a little V). If a leaf rips, that's ok. If it rips in half, that's not as good. Lay all the big leaves out flat.
  2. Butter a casserole dish (or two). Spoon just enough of the tomato sauce onto the bottom to lightly cover it. It doesn't have to be solid. It can be streaky.
  3. Take about 1/4 cup of filling and place it on the cabbage, right above the "bottom" of the V. Roll it up, sort of like a burrito. Roll the end over it, then fold the sides in and then continue rolling it. Place seam side down in the casserole dish. The cabbage rolls should be packed very closely together. You want them to steam, so it works best to treat them like sardines. You'll notice that not every leaf is the same size, be smart and remember that not all leaves will take the same amount of filling. Add more or less depending on the size of each leaf.
  4. Once you've filled all your cabbage leaves, rolled them up and placed them into the pan, top them with the rest of the tomato sauce you made. If you opened up a 4-cup carton of beef stock, then you've probably got some leftover. Add about 1/2 cup to the casserole dish, you can also add water if you want.
  5. Just to be safe, line a sheet pan with tin foil and put the casserole dish on top of that. Then cover the top of the dish with parchment and then with tin foil. (If you put tin foil directly on top of the tomato covered cabbages, a nasty reaction will occur and you don't want that. Slide the whole dish into the oven. Throw all of the dishes into the dishwasher. Pour a very large glass of wine and pull up an episode of "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" and stir back and enjoy the most glamorous private detective around. When that hour is up, get yourself another drink and watch a half hour episode of "Friends" since that's on Netflix too. Now, go and check on your cabbage rolls. They should be done at this point. The cabbage will be nice and soft, a bubbly sauce will be surrounding all of your little rolls. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving. Or wait until the next day when it's even better.
Recipe Notes

TROUBLESHOOTING
If you're rolls come out browned and crispy, a couple of things probably happened. They weren't packed close enough together in the casserole dish, you didn't add any extra liquid to the pan right before baking, you cooked them uncovered in the oven along with one of the first two problems.

TIPS
As you peel leaves off of the cabbage, you may notice that you didn't get all of the core out the first time. That's fine, just remove the entire cabbage from the pot and carefully cut out the rest of the core.

If you don't have a box grater, you can just put the carrot and onion in the food processor and pulse until very fine.

You'll notice you've got a pot of cabbage flavored water and some vegetable scraps. Be smart. Throw the scraps in with the cabbage water (once you've finished peeling it) and let it all simmer. By the time you throw the Golumpki into the oven, the stock will be ready to strain. If you double the amount of rice, you can add the extra rice in. Any leave that didn't get filled can be chopped up and added to the stock as well. Season to taste.

Try and buy unsalted/low sodium/sodium free versions of things like butter, stock, bouillon, tomatoes so you have better control over all the salt added to the dish.

VARIATIONS
If you don't want to use rice, you can use grains like Barley or Farro. Treat them just like the rice (other than amounts of liquid and cooking times).

Replace the meat with some sausage.

LEFTOVERS
Reheat leftovers in the microwave. You don't want them crispy, so it works perfectly. If you want to reheat in the oven, make sure there is some liquid with them.

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