Gołąbki or cabbage rolls interpreted masterfully by Krzys

Gołąbki, or cabbage rolls, are cabbage leaves stuffed with a mixture or rice and ground beef. There are also vegetarian variants which use e.g. mushrooms instead of meat.

Making gołąbki is not difficult. There are basically three steps:

Peel some leaves off a cabbage.
Stuff the leaves with ground beef & rice.
Cover with tomato sauce, bake.

Ingredients (quantities are approximate):

  • 1 head of regular spherical (not Chinese or other exotic) cabbage
  • 0.5 – 1kg ground beef
  • 0.5L cooked white rice (don’t stress too much about overcooking it)
  • 0.5L of tomato sauce / canned diced tomatoes / tomatoes in some shape or form
  • 0.5L soup stock (you can use the good ol’ bouillon cubes wrapped in shiny foil)
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • spices: chili, cayenne pepper (don’t be a hero! use a small amount), oregano, basil, pepper…whatever you typically use to season ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • a splash of milk

OK, so the hardest thing about this dish is getting the leaves off the cabbage. It has been suggested that a cabbage which is not tightly wrapped in plastic might lend itself more graciously to this effort. My technique is to nuke the cabbage gradually in the microwave a minute at a time until it warms up a bit, then peel off the leaves slowly and dunk them in a huge pot of boiling salted water for 3 minutes or so. (I did this 3 leaves at a time.) The microwave part is optional (19th century cooks rarely used microwaves) but the brief boiling in water is, in my experience, essential. (I guess you could microwave the leaves instead of boiling them. I guess you could also hire a team of ninjas to steam the leaves with their bare hands.)

Before you start, cook the rice and let it cool. If you don’t give it time to cool you will burn your fingers later. You have been warned.

You’ll need as many cabbage leaves as it takes to fill your baking dish with rolls (one leaf per roll). So basically, the better part of one cabbage. A typical adult portion might consist of 2-3 rolls, so that should give you an idea of the roll size. Of course the goal is to make the rolls so good that people will eat more than 3, but anyway.

Fry up the ground beef in the way you’ve been doing since that undergraduate semester when you subsisted entirely on spaghetti + sauce. As you know, this involves chopped onion and some spices.

Once the beef is done, let it cool a bit, then combine with rice, egg, and milk to make the stuffing. The point of the egg is to bind the stuff together, and the milk is to prevent it from getting too dry. If the stuffing is too dry your dinner guests will be grumpy: you don’t want that.

Now you need to put a moderate amount of stuffing in a cabbage leaf and fold the leaf. Some people use toothpicks or thread to secure the folded leaf, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Also, if you forget to tell your guests that there are toothpicks and they bite down on the toothpicks…you don’t want that. If you place the stuffed roll gingerly in the baking dish in such a way that the “tip” of the leaf is at the bottom, it should retain its structural integrity throughout the baking process. Also, if you pack the rolls tightly enough together so there’s little shifting in the oven. In case you live on a boat, for example, and there are waves which cause your oven to rock & roll.

Once your baking dish is full, you’ll need to cover the cabbage rolls with some kind of tomato sauce. Make about 0.5L of soup stock, then add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato sauce. If you are new to East-Central European cooking – in other words, if you are very blandness-shy – you may want to add some spices to the tomato sauce to make it a little bit hot. I used canned tomatoes which contained hot peppers (what will they think of next?!) and that did the trick nicely. I also added some sugar and some vinegar, although I think the vinegar is unnecessary because the tomatoes are already sour like a jilted girlfriend.

Cover and bake for about 45 minutes at 350F (176.666667C).

Your goal is for the cabbage to be soft and the stuffing to be not-dry. This might take some practice but, on the up side, like I said, it’s not a very difficult dish to make.

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