You might have an inkling that I am not Polish, nor have I any Polish blood upstream. I have been to exactly one Polish restaurant that I can recall: the late Warsawa on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, a long time ago (it was across the street from Chez Panisse, if that tells you anything).
Anyway, fast forward a decade or three. When I was in Albany for the mystery conference Bouchercon, a group of us went to a restaurant there called the Albany Pump Station (the “pump” part refers to the water pumped from the Hudson River to a local reservoir in the 19th century, not to the excellent brewpub that now occupies the building).
On the eclectic menu, buried among the ribs, meatloaf, scallops, shrimp and so on was “golabki.” I am ever game to try new things, so I ordered it—and I liked it.
|The Pump Station version, with pierogies|
So of course I had to try to make it myself. Hmm—no Polish cookbooks. Let’s try the Internet. Hmm again: plenty of recipes, but no two alike (although more than one person claims that it was their grandmother’s favorite Sunday recipe). But I don’t give up easily, so here is my Irish-American interpretation of this much-loved Polish dish.
This recipe should serve six, but you can easily double it.
The wrapping: 6 large whole cabbage leaves
If the leaves can be removed easily from your head of cabbage, peel off 6 (keep peeling until you get six that aren’t torn!) and blanch them briefly in boiling water to soften them. Then set them aside while you make the filling.
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ lb ground beef
¼ cup pork sausage or ground pork
½ cup cooked rice
1 Tblsp whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Note: various recipes suggest adding other herbs or spices, such as a bit of cloves or basil. Or celery or carrots or mushrooms or grated apples—you get the drift. Throw in whatever you've got that tastes good.
In a sauté pan, add a tablespoon of oil (not olive oil) and sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat for a few minutes, until soft. Add the meats and cook until they are no longer pink (this does not have to be cooked through because the rolls will cook when they’re assembled). Drain off any grease.
In a large bowl, combine the meat mixture, the egg, the milk and the spices and mix.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread out a cabbage leaf and place 1-4 Tblsp of filling in the middle (how much you use will depend on how large your cabbage leaves are). Tuck the edges under, then roll the roll to firm it up so it won’t fall apart as it cooks.
Place each roll, seam side down, in a greased baking dish. Continue until you’ve used up your filling (you should have at least six).
Here’s where the widest variation among recipes occurs. You can make your own favorite tomato sauce, or use a canned one. You can use the liquid from baking and add some tomato paste. Most recipes agree in adding some brown sugar.
I’ve opted for a sort of hybrid:
¼ cup red wine
1 cup beef broth
3 Tblsp brown sugar
Salt if needed (depends on your beef broth)
Mix the liquids, stir in the sugar, salt if needed, and pour around the cabbage rolls (this will not submerge them). Cover with foil and bake in the preheated over for 40 minutes.
Remove from the oven and remove the foil. Pour your tomato sauce (or even chopped tomatoes) over the rolls and bake, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. If you wish, you can either mix in or garnish with sour cream at the end.
The restaurant served them with pierogies (like ravioli stuffed with mashed potatoes); other people recommend serving the rolls with mashed potatoes on the side. You can decide!
And if you happen to be Polish, you can tell me how far wrong I am.