Citizens, Gołąbki (pronounced ga-WUMP-kee) are a seminal dish in Polish cuisine and are made from lightly soft-boiled cabbage leaves wrapped around minced pork or beef, chopped onions, and rice or barley, which are baked in a casserole dish and are usually served with a tomato-based sauce.
Gołąbki actually means “little pigeons” in Polish and is a reference to the size and shape of the cabbage packages.
Gołąbki are often served during the Christmas season and on festive occasions such as weddings. They are also a featured dish for family reunions amongst Polish Americans.
Polish myth holds that the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Casimir IV, fed his army with gołąbki before a key battle of the Thirteen Years’ War outside of Malbork Castle against the Teutonic Order, victory stemming from the strength of the hearty meal.
These stuffed cabbage rolls simmered in a tomato sauce are popular throughout Eastern Europe. In Russia, their version of the recipe are known as golubtsy. In Ukraine they are called holubtsi. Hungarians refer to them as töltött káposzta. In Yiddish, holipshes, goleptzi golumpki and holishkes or holep are very similar dishes.
My gołąbki are made with plenty of herbs, dried mushrooms for flavor and beer, making them truly delectable. Putting a strip of bacon on top of each gołąbki makes for a bacon fat-basted package of true flavor that truly gilds the lily of my recipe!
For a similar recipe in the sweet and sour Jewish tradition, try my grandmothers stuffed cabbage recipe here.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
28 oz. cans tomato sauce
3 oz. tomato paste
1 large Vidalia onions chopped
2 tbsp. chopped fresh marjoram
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 cloves of garlic mashed and diced (mash the garlic by using the flat side of a chef’s knife and then dice.)
1 cup of sliced fresh mushrooms
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms, hydrated in one cup of beef stock (and reserve beef stock), blend soaked mushrooms to a paste
¼ cup olive oil
⅛ cup of Worcestershire sauce
⅛ cup sugar
6 oz. of beer (a pilsner style is best)
salt, pepper and beef stock from dried mushrooms
For the Gołąbkis:
3 heads of Napa cabbage
3 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound fatty ground pork
3 cups of cooked rice
3 large eggs
2 peeled, cored and diced Gala apples
1 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. dried savory
1 tsp. dried marjoram
¼ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. white pepper
1 pound of uncooked bacon strips. Cut the strips in thirds and set aside. They are not to be added to the sauce.
Minced fresh dill for garnishing
Heat the oil in a large stock or sauce pot to medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the Vidalia onions and the sugar. You are starting the caramelization process. The sugar needs to boil in order to caramelize the onions. Stir frequently to avoid burning. This process will take approximately 20 to 30 minutes. The onions go from white to a caramel color.
Once the onions are caramelized, reduce the heat to medium and add the sliced mushrooms and garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes stirring frequently. Do not let the garlic burn. Once the mushrooms are soft, add the beer. Cook until this mixture is hot and bubbling, about 5 minutes.
Add to the stock pot the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Fill one of the empty tomato sauce cans all the way with the beef stock (preferred) or water and add to the stock pot. Add porcini paste to sauce along with minced fresh herbs.
Add the Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until simmering and small bubbles appear. Reduce heat to low. Stir occasionally while allowing to simmer as you prepare the cabbage for the gołąbkis.
One medium to large head of cabbage yields approximately 12 large leaves to roll the gołąbkis in.
Prepare the cabbage gołąbki leaves. Add water to a large stock pot about a third full. Start to boil the water. Using a paring knife remove the core from the bottoms of the cabbages.
Place one cabbage at a time, core side down, into the stock pot of boiling water. Allow the outer leaves of the cabbage to steam until soft. Basically, you are blanching the outer leaves.
Wearing oven mitts or using a towel, use a large slotted spoon to remove the cabbage from the stock pot. Place the cabbage on a large cutting board and use tongs to remove the leaves. Be careful not to tear the leaves.
Rinse the leaves in a colander under cool water, pat dry with a paper towel and set aside on a plate or cutting board. You may have to place the cabbage back into the pot several times in order to blanch and peel off twelve leaves from the head.
Do this until all 3 cabbages have been blanched and you have 36 large cabbage leaves. Caution: you are working with boiling water and steam. Take every precaution so that you do not burn yourself while removing cabbage leaves.
You will have a small inner core head of cabbage left over after removing the leaves. Take one of these small cabbage heads and chop finely. Add this chopped cabbage to your sauce. Use the remainder in other recipes or freeze for future use.
Now that all of the main ingredients are cooked, mix the meat filling for the stuffed cabbage. In a large bowl combine the filling ingredients.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using about ¼ to ⅓ cup of filling, fill and roll the cabbage rolls. Place a cabbage leaf on the cutting board with the cut end facing you. The leaf should be cup side or curled side up. Add the filling. Fold the two sides in over the meat and roll tightly. Gołąbkis should be about the size of the top of your fist when rolled.
Using a ladle, ladle some of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place the rolled gołąbki evenly and tightly together in kitchen pans. About 12 gołąbkis will fit into each pan. Ladle sauce on top of the gołąbkis until they are covered.
Cut the bacon strips into thirds. Place a cut piece of bacon on top of each stuffed cabbage roll. Once filled, cover the tray with heavy duty aluminum foil and bake for 1 ½ hours. Remove and serve, garnished with plenty of minced dill.