Calling all Polish grandmothers - how do you deal with this cabbage?

I decided while at the grocery store on the spur of the moment to celebrate my Polish heritage and make some cabbage rolls. Which is funny, since my grandmother never (when I knew her, at least) made anything Polish at all unless Polish people eat a lot of stuff with cut up hot dogs in it, and my mom used to make them sometimes when I was little but never cooks anymore. When you can finally afford that kitchen renovation you always wanted, you’re too old to cook, so my mom has this gorgeous super-awesome kitchen and never has to clean it because they mostly eat breakfast in it and I have a closet with a stove in it that works its ass off every day.

Anyway, my grandpa dropped the “ski” from our name, and not at Ellis Island. In Pittsburgh, where you’d think nobody would give a crap if you had a ski on your name. When my cousin married a very nice man with a ski I thought it would kill him. A few months ago (he’s been dead for two years) we went out and hunted down the graves of his parents - my uncles had been taken with my grandpa and his brother to mow the grass at the cemetery, but they made my uncles stay in the car. Only later did they realize it’s because they might have seen “Domanski” and asked questions.

So. I don’t really know what I’m doing here. I have a recipe that looks really good but I’m having a hard time with the cabbage. I’m stuck with what I’m doing this time, but for next time I need advice.

I’m not really used to doing things that require whole leaves of cabbage intact. The recipe says to boil the whole head of cabbage. The whole head of cabbage does not get done at the same time. At all. The outer leaves were doner than I thought I was supposed to do and four leaves in it was cold. Before that I’d tried taking it apart leaf by leaf and boiling the leaves, but they tore. So I’m stuck leaving the head of cabbage in a terrifying boiling pot and gingerly poking it with tongs every so often and when a leaf looks done pulling it off. Tell me that isn’t the best way, please. I’m going to burn myself and it’s going to be humiliating.

Plus, the way I’m going we won’t eat until midnight.

I think you’re doing it pretty much right, but it might be helpful to remove the core first. This recipe has very complete directions:

My best fiend’s mother is half Polish. I used to love being invited to dinner and having galumpkis. :slight_smile:

Ah, gołąbki. Basically, you pull the leaves off as they soften in the boiling water. You don’t want to completely cook the leaves–you just want them soft enough so they’ll roll and be easy to stuff.

I know you’re being facetious, but if it were mixed with fermented (not vinegary) sauerkraut along with some other stuff, it would actually be close enough to something legitimately Polish.

First of all, cabbage rolls can definitely end up being an all-day affair, even for those of us who have been doing this crap all our lives. It’s challenging, but not impossible. Let me try to explain it the best I can, though it’s easier to show it in person.

Before you boil the head, take off the bruised and damaged outer leaves–the ones with holes and spots in them. Turn the cabbage over and take a large, sharp knife. Cut several big, deep slits around the core. Don’t core it, but some nice deep slits in a rough square around the core should do it.

GENTLY put the cabbage into the boiling water. Be careful–this is the step where I always burn myself. Important tip: the pot should be big enough so you can turn and rotate the head. Boil away for a few minutes, and turn the head frequently. As the outer leaves cook, they’ll start to come away from the head. CAREFULLY, because this is another part where it’s easy to burn yourself, finagle the leaf off the head. You can use tongs, but I don’t like to because the leaves tear too easily. Usually it’s best done with a great big wooden spoon and a slotted spoon–sort of pin the leaf between the two flat surfaces and tug gently. If it’s done, it should come away easily. Continue boiling until the next layer of leaves are ready. Lather, rinse, repeat. This can be a one-to two-hour job depending on how big the cabbage head is and how many heads you’re boiling.

Set the leaves aside to drain and cool off. Usually I put them in a colander in the sink or over a bowl while I deal with the rest of the leaves. Another helpful tip for making gołąbki–take the leaves once they’re cooled and lay them vein-side-up on a plate. Take a small, very sharp knife, and gently and carefully pare off the hardest part of the center vein and the hard white part. In this photo, I’d pare off the little hard white bit at the bottom, and about two inches of the hard part of the center light vein. This makes the leaf easier to stuff and roll.

Don’t throw away the leaves that tear in the process! Because no matter how good you get, you’ll end up tearing leaves. Use them (and also the boiled leaves that are too small to stuff) to line the baking dish and cover up the gołąbkis. And then once they’re done, fry them up, because fried baked boiled cabbage is one of God’s perfect foods.

I hope that was relatively clear!

It was a complete disaster. :frowning: Not the cabbage’s fault, the recipe’s. It said to add enough water to cover the rolls - I didn’t even add that much, since it seemed excessive. Over the cooking time the whole thing exuded enough water that it was swimming in it when it was done, and it was all bland and tasteless and watered down. Should have trusted my gut.

Oh, so sad…:frowning: Maybe **apollonia **has a recipe that works better.

I gotta admit, mine are pretty ghetto-style. My mom’s and my granny’s are much much better, but I’ll give you the recipe I use. The hardest part for me has always been the rice-to-meat ratio.

I always use ground pork, though I guess if you really wanted to you could use any meat you like. Anyway, I’ll try to guess the amounts, though it’s really not an exact science, but very much a “these look and feel about right” type thing. I start with 1 pound of ground pork. I cook about one cup of long-grain rice about halfway–usually about ten minutes or so, then I take it off and drain it. I mix about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of rice to 1 pound ground pork (my mom uses less rice–I use more to stretch the meat further, because I am broker). Then I mix in 1 tablespoon of Vegeta, which is a salt-spice-veggie thing mix you can find in ethnic markets or Polish delis or places like that. I think it’s from Croatia. As a rule, the more rice that’s in it, the more Vegeta it takes. Then I throw in some salt and pepper to taste. Mix it all together until it’s all mixed up.

Roll it up into the leaves, into a little packet. Don’t clamp the mixture together too tightly, though. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a nice thick baking or casserole dish–my 13x9 Pyrex can do about a head’s worth of rolls. After spraying the dish down, line it with some boiled cabbage leaves, then put in the rolls. Pour the rest of the cooking liquid–not plain water, the cabbage water has more flavour–into the dish until it’s about a half-inch or so deep. Cover the rolls with the rest of the leaves. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake the rolls for at least 90 minutes. It may take up to two hours. Be careful to check the rolls and not let the liquid in the dish get too low, or the rolls will scorch and burn.

After that, they’re done, technically, but we always refry ours in a little butter to finish. It gives them a delicious edge. If they come out soggy and watered-down at the end, something went wrong–too much water, maybe. Traditionally they’re served with a mushroom sauce or a really tart tomato sauce, but since I am the world’s worst Pole and loathe mushrooms, and I have issues when it comes to sauce, my reheated rolls are always served with ketchup. Yum yum.

I’d give you my mother’s, but she doesn’t use a recipe. (I’ve never been a fan of halupki, but then I’ve never really liked cabbage in general)

This sounds more authentic, though. The previous ones mentioned didn’t have saurkraut. (I’ve never seen it made without 'kraut)
I do have my gramma’s pierogie recipe, if you want authentic Polish cooking.

Uh, that recipe doesn’t call for sauerkraut, either. Traditional golabki doesn’t have sauerkraut in it, nor does any variation all over Eastern Europe I’ve ever heard of. They may have pieces of cabbage leaf mixed in, but that’s not sauerkraut.

If it’s not too much of a hijack (hey, it’s still Polish cooking and grandmothers!) do you mind sharing, please and thanks?

Actually, it’s not uncommon. I’ve never seen it in any Polish preparation of golabki, but once you head south, the Hungarians, Serbians, and Bulgarians, at the very least, often used pickled cabbage leaves (aka sauerkraut, though not in chopped form) in their versions of stuffed cabbage (and often put sauerkraut down in between layers of the cabbage rolls.)

I watched Julia Child stuff cabbage - one of the things she did was to freeze and then defrost the cabbage head. The leaves then peeled away from the core nice and tender, just as if they had been blanched.

I will keep this in mind when I tackle this dish, along with the observation that you really don’t need to make rolls at all.

Fair enough. I’ve only had Polish and Russian cabbage rolls, and Slovak/Czech ones, and some German variations. I’ve never really been south of Slovakia or sampled much south-Slavic food.

My grandmother pours tomato juice over them rather than water. I think that’s the only difference between her technique and Apollonia’s (and thus we don’t serve them with added sauce on the side). And of course she puts about half a block of butter on top while they’re baking, because nothing Polish can’t be improved by butter!

Someday I intend to try making them but cabbage rolls as well as pierogis are so labour-intensive that I’ll probably only ever make them when my grandmother’s no longer around to make them for me.

I found some more information on the Polish Wikipedia page:

My loose translation:

“At the Kresy, baked gołąbki wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves are also known, served mainly as a Christmas Eve dish.”

So it’s an Eastern Polish thing (by “Eastern,” I mean now mostly Lithuania, Belorussia, and Ukraine.) I personally have never seen it in the context of Polish food. Our traditional Christmas Eve gołąbki were made from buckwheat kasha and reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms.

My grandmothers were Hungarian & Romanian - both added vinegar & plenty of salt to the water to boil the cabbage - and both used sauerkraut on the bottom of the pan if there are not very many extra cabbage leaves to line the pan.

The Hungarian recipe I know well.

4 heads of cabbage - cored & boiled removing leaves as you go - cores get saved to chop & line pan.

Filling:
Total of 4 lbs ground pork, pork sausage, bacon, and ground beef.
2 cups cooked rice
2 or 3 eggs
minced garlic (4 cloves) & onions (1)
2 tblsp hot paprika
4 tblsp sweet paprika
1 tsp thyme
2 tblsp tomato paste
Salt & pepper

Sauce:
2 cups Tomato juice
1 10oz can stewed tomatoes
Water
salt & pepper
A hunk of salt pork or some bacon

Line roaster pan with leaves from cabbage core or sauerkraut, add bacon or salt pork to bottom, place rolls in, and pour tomato juice, canned tomatoes, and enough water to reach the top of the rolls. Add salt, pepper.

Cover top a thin layer with more leaves or sauerkraut.

Cook covered in oven at 350 for 1.5 hours.

If you want a creamy sauce, once they come out of the oven, take what ever sauce remains in the pan & mix with sour cream, & add some dill if you like - and if need be thicken with cornstarch or a rue.

Romanian ones are quite similar, except you must use sauerkraut on the bottom of the pan along with your salt pork or bacon. There is never beef or sausage in the Romanian one, only pork & bacon. Paprika is left out & the spices are thyme, oregano & dill. The sauce is different too, it contains some brown sugar, tomato juice, and the sauerkraut juice or a couple spoons of vinegar.

That actually sounds like a pretty clever trick. I’m going to have to try it next time.

One more tip to mention is to add an extra layer of flavor, fry the golabki in bacon fat (or butter or oil) until browned on both sides before baking them.

We usually make our golabki with a mixture of tomato soup and crushed tomatoes for the sauce. And the meat mixture is often flavored with caraway or marjoram, and sometimes some finely chopped sauteeed onions, depending on our mood. Use enough to come up maybe halfway up the dish. (Although I’ve seen others completely cover their golabki–this too me is way too much sauce.)

And ketchup is fine on these things. We’re not big ketchup eaters in our family, but when the golabki come out, it’s not a forbidden condiment.

Or, if you’re my Yiddish-speaking grandmother, praakes. Her family hails from southern Poland, though it was Austro-Hungary when they left. Her cabbage rolls are in a tomato-based, sweet-and-sour sauce with a bit of nutmeg, ginger, and some golden raisins. For tartness, she always used whole cranberry sauce, which I’m pretty sure isn’t toally authentic; I’ve seen similar recipes that use a bit of vinegar or lemon juice.

The one and only time I tried making golabki, it was a total disaster. Couldn’t get the leaves off right, couldn’t roll them right, etc. But I tried. When they came out of the oven, they looked so pitiful, I unrolled them and just served the stuffing. And it was a hit! Now I know better, I just make a big batch of stuffing, and the family loves it. I usually serve it with frozen pierogies. I love cooking, but damn, Polish food is work! I can’t believe there are people who do pierogies and golabki from scratch.