My Polish Cookbook “bible”
The cabbage leaves are used to make a little parcel with a meat and rice filling and these are then cooked in a liquid stock or sauce.
I have read that this is a very old dish which originally came from the Byzantine Empire and was made with vine leaves, as it came north; cabbage leaves replaced the vine leaves.
The main 3 ingredients are: cabbage, rice and minced meat, and you also need a liquid to cook them in, which in my mother’s case was always a stock with tomatoes.
You can use white or Savoy cabbage. White cabbage has softer more pliable leaves and I think make the best gołąbki . Savoy cabbage has firmer leaves that are easier to work with but take longer to cook; these can be easier for a novice to use.
You need a large head of cabbage to get large leaves.
You can use any type of rice but the stickier types are the best.
The traditional Polish version uses pork. My mother used beef as this was more readily available in England. Now that minced pork is more available and you do not have to hand mince it, I use either or even mix the two.
There are many variations using, fresh or dried mushrooms, buckwheat instead of rice, and a stock without tomatoes. In fact buckwheat is a more older version as it grows in Poland and rice would have to be imported.
This recipe is my mother’s and for me this is just right!
Mama’s Classic Recipe
1 large head of white cabbage or Savoy cabbage
500g of minced beef or pork
chicken stock – a cube or concentrate will do
1 tube of tomato purée
salt & pepper
2 bay leaves
3 or 4 peppercorns or allspice or both
Although the gołąbki take a while to put together, you then leave them to cook in a slow oven for hours which is easy.
You can reheat them on the next day and in fact I think they taste better the longer they have been steeped in the cooking liquid and I always make them a day in advance.
They also freeze very well, so I pack any left in portions of 2 or 4 for a later date. Because of this I like to make as big a batch as I can in one go.
I use a very large enamelled oval dish with a lid which is ideal for this.
As you need whole largish cabbage leaves I sometimes use 2 cabbages to get the bigger leaves.
You need to parboil the rice in salted water so that it is about half way to being cooked and then strain the rice and let it go cold, but if you have some plain boiled rice left from another day you could use this as this is not critical.
In a large bowl mix the rice and minced meat and add salt and pepper. The exact amounts do not matter. I like it to look about 50/50 white and pink but these can be made with much more rice to eke out the meat available.
Next comes the hardest part and patience is called for here to avoid getting scalded fingers. You have to heat or steam the cabbage to make the leaves pliable so you can remove them one by one and use them to encase the filling.
You need the largest pan you have into which you place the cabbage head. I boil some water in a kettle and pour this over the cabbage in the pan with some heat under the pan I let the cabbage cook a little. The temptation is to boil to quickly so making some of the leave too soft and runs the risk of getting scalded as you try to remove the leaves. Another method is to place the cabbage into a metal colander and set this over the pan of water so that it is steamed rather than boiled.
As the leaves become soft, you have to cut them off from the stalk and stack them up for to use later, you can cut out the thickest part of the stalk from the first few larger leaves.
Pre heat the oven to GM2 – 150oC
Place a small handful of the rice & meat mixture onto a cabbage leaf and roll up from the stalk end, tuck in the sides and secure with the outer edge of the leaf to make a small parcel.
Place the rolls into a large casserole dish, packing as many rolls as possible in rows in the dish. Depending on the depth of the dish repeat this for another layer.
A tip I got from my late cousin, Krystyna, is to use extra cabbage leaves on the base of the dish and then to put extra leaves on the top of the rolls.
The rolls sometimes have a habit of getting slightly burnt on the top as they come out of the liquid and sometimes at the base if they have been in the oven a long time, these extra layers protect the rolls and can be discarded at the end.
Make a large amount of liquid stock with hot water and tomato purée and add bay leaves, peppercorns and allspice.
Cover the rolls with this liquid. It is a good idea to have extra which you can use to top up as they are cooking.
Cover with the lid and place in the oven and cook for several hours. Check them occasionally and keep them covered with liquid as much as possible.
As mentioned earlier I make these a day beforehand and then put them back in the oven for an hour or so before serving.
They are a complete meal in themselves but you can give serve them with some bread to mop up all the liquid sauce.