Thursday Cooking Adventure: Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

Huge cabbage from csa box

Our box of weekly csa veggies; with a huge cabbage!

We got a lovely head of cabbage in our CSA box this week so immediately I thought of the delicious Golabki (Polish dish of stuffed cabbage rolls)! But I was determined to work on improving upon the recipe I had for most of my youth, replacing the usual tomato sauce with a delicious mushroom sauce!

The Adventure

I love golabki and always have.  Yet, if there is one thing I’ve never really been thrilled with when eating Golabki (aside from the need to take some Beano due to the massive amounts of cabbage intake)  is the tomato soup sauce that the rolls usually cook in. I’m all for a good mess of tomatoes in most dishes but to me it never really meshed well with the golabki.  Maybe the acid in the tomatoes threw me off; or maybe the cabbage just never felt like it absorbed any good flavors from a simple tomato coating.

Monstrous Cabbage

Monstrous Cabbage

Well since I had that huge head of cabbage staring me down and a determination to improve upon an ages old recipe looming before me I started to dig through my cookbooks because I wasn’t sure WHAT I wanted to replace that tomato sauce WITH.  Though I did have a feeling I wanted it to include mushrooms.

So, I started with The Art of Polish Cooking book*.  They have a recipe for Golabki (which I’ve always had a hard time looking up in indexes due to the fact that growing up I never saw that word actually WRITTEN and, when you don’t know the Cyrillic alphabet and the corresponding pronunciations, something that sounds like “Ga-wump-key” takes a bit to find!) and I managed to find it.  One of the little side notes in the recipe indicated that it was possible to use a Mushroom Sauce in lieu of the tomato.  Well, jackpot, right?

Well, the recipe for that Mushroom Sauce called for fresh mushrooms (or perhaps dried?  I forget now honestly but whatever it was; I didn’t have it!) but I did have some previously cooked and frozen batches of mushrooms just waiting, one Ziploc baggie away.  So, I made my plan of culinary attack: Golabki with Mushroom Sauce.  With the cookbook opened to the page on Golabki and a bookmark set on the Mushroom sauce page, I set about getting things cooked.

First things first, I wanted to get that rice cooker going.  But….I didn’t remember that at this point yet….

I did remember to turn the oven on to 350 degrees though!

First, I got my biggest pot ready, added lots of water and salt and that huge cabbage.  At this point, however, I would like to point out that the first step here SHOULD have been to CORE the cabbage, so that the leaves all begin to float off as they are softened, rather than having to clip them off with kitchen scissors as I had to.  Anyway….

cabbage in water

It's even too big for my biggest pot. Yikes!

Once the leaves started to look a bit more tender I went about clipping the outer ones off, leaving the ones closer to the core more exposed to the hot water.  Again, had I actually done the pre-coring step the leaves would have been much easier to pry off.

I gathered about a dozen good big leaves and set them aside in a bowl to cool a bit.  The rest of the cabbage I left in a colander to drain and then, later, chopped it up and put it into a Tupperware.  I’m either going to do a “bubble and squeak” type thing (potatoes and cabbage, from what my mom said when I asked what it was); or fry it up in a stir fry or even just in a dollop of bacon grease as my mother originally suggested!  But anyway, here are the leaves for the rolls:

cabbag leaves in a bowl

Cooling off for the roll-up action to come

With those off cooling I set the big pot of water on a back burner (to be used later to quickly steam the corn on the cob.  Yum!

Now it was time to move on to the filling and sauce.  I chopped up one huge onion and split it in two portions.  I fried up the first in about a tablespoon of butter and a bit of salt until they got soft and translucent.  These went into a bowl to cool.

Getting all carmelized

Getting all soft and fragrant

This is when I finally remembered that I should have started the rice cooker at the beginning so that I would have nicely cooked grains for my filling.  Better late than never though!

Rice Cooker in action

All steamed up, making hard grains into soft, edible rice

So, with the first batch of onions done for the filling and the rice (coughFINALLYcough) bubbling away in the rice cooker, I began work on getting the second batch of onions going for the sauce.

Again I got the onions all tasty and soft before adding the previously frozen mushrooms to the mix.  You can see the lovely way the mushrooms are still all frozenly clumped together.

add mushrooms to the onions

Adding my baggie of frozen mushrooms to the onions

The frozen bits actually, I think, made the mushrooms simmer down into a nice sauce even just as-is.  Yet I still added the recommended chicken broth to the mix to make more volume so I had enough to cover the rolls later on.  Once the mushrooms were simmering in the chickeny broth I slowly added my thickener (1/4 cup flour in 1 cup of warm water with pepper).  It still didn’t get incredibly thick though and I think next time I will up the flour to water ratio a tad since sauces tend to thin out in the oven anyway. Another thing that might have thickened it a bit more would have been the sour cream the recipe called for.  I had to use heavy cream since it was all I had on hand.

adding cream to the thickened mushroom broth/sauce

Adding cream to the thickened mushroom broth/sauce

I let the sauce bubble a bit more to thicken up again after the addition of the cream but turned off the heat on the burner since it was otherwise done and rather tasty.  Sort of like a gravy but lacking Worcestershire sauce’s kick; which I think I would add next time to give it a bit more flavor.

With that now ready I began on the filling.  About a 1/4-1/2 pound of ground beef went into the bowl with the onions.  Into that I added 2 good cups of cooked rice.  Next time I’ll probably use a bit more to make the ratio more rice to beef.  I mixed it all up with some season salt, pepper and garlic powder.  It all came out a touch drier than I’d like though so I think next time I will add an egg for a bit of binding and perhaps a 1/2 cup or so of the mushroomy sauce.

Raw burger, cooked onions, cooked rice

Raw burger, cooked onions, cooked rice all mixed up

With these steps out of the way it was finally time to roll up my Golabki!

Taking the cabbage leaves on a cutting board I carefully cut out the hard bit of the stem.  Then I added a good spoonful of filling on the full part of the leaf.

stem removed, filling on there

Stem is removed and filling is ready to be rolled

Starting your rolls from the part with the filling (and NOT with those tails; as I discovered after a few fumblingly failed roll-ups); roll the leaf over the filling once; tuck in the left and right sides; then roll up the rest of the way to get a neat little cabbage package.

Once you have all your rolls ready, add them to a sprayed baking dish (this is usually where recipes recommend layering other remaining cabbage leaves on the bottom or something but I wanted the rolls to soak up the nice sauce; not the random leaves on the bottom!).

rolls in dish

You can see my rolls aren't all very "neat" but they are pretty good considering how many leaves I ended up ripping!

Next I put the glass dish onto a cookie sheet and got to do the fun part of pouring that creamy mushroom sauce in and around the golabki.  It looked pretty appealing!

rolls covered in mushroom sauce

That delicious sauce is tantalizingly covering all the golabki

Now I set it to bake for an hour until the top was getting golden and the sauce was happily bubbling away.  When it came out I let it set for 10 minutes or so, mostly because I was getting another dish ready (these spicy baked shrimp as a treat for Adam D) but also because no one likes a scalded mouth!

finished cooked golabki

The finished golabki dish. Bubbling and delicious.

In retrospect I know that adding some sour cream instead of heavy cream to the original sauce would have made for a bit thicker of a sauce and will do that in the future, along with a tablespoon or so of Worcestershire sauce for some added depth of flavor.  Also, I will be adding an egg and a half cup of the sauce to the filling; perhaps with a few fresh mushrooms diced up very fine.  This and a bit more seasonings will likely take care of the slightly dry filling and the mild need for further seasonings.

All in all though I think it came out very nicely and has been a welcome lunch the last few days this week!

Two golabki, broken open to expose filling, with extra sauce

Two golabki, broken open to expose filling, with extra sauce

The Recipe

  • 1 head cabbage
  • 2 cups cooked rice (freshly done; the hot rice cooks the raw burger a bit)
  • 1/4 pound of ground burger, raw (spiced ground pork makes a good alternate or even addition)
  • 1 pound mushrooms, (most sliced, about a 1/2 cup to 1 cup diced up very fine for filling)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (or, better, sour cream)
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup flour in 1 cup water (with a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and some pepper)
  • 1 cup Chicken Broth
  1. Set oven to 350 degrees
  2. Set your rice to cook (hah, yes, BEFORE the rest of the steps; works better if you don’t want to be left waiting for a while!)
  3. CORE the cabbage and blanch in hot water, taking the softened leaves as they come off the main body and setting them aside to cool.
  4. In a saucepan, fry up 1/2 of the onion in 1 tbsp butter until soft and caramelized.  Set aside in a bowl for the filling.
  5. In the same pan fry up the remaining onions with the remaining butter until soft and caramelized again (or you can do them all at the same time; come to think of it; and just put half in the bowl for the filling.  Yeah.  That would have been a time saver).
  6. Add your sliced mushrooms.  Saute until tender and browning
  7. Add chicken broth and simmer a few minutes
  8. Add the thickener (flour, water, Worcestershire sauce, pepper), stirring until incorporated
  9. Simmer a few minutes while it thickens
  10. Add the cream, slowly, and simmer in the hot pot, turning off the burner
  11. Add your rice and meat to the onions you set aside.
  12. Add spices, an egg and about 1/2 cup of the sauce to the blend of filling (the egg and sauce are not yet tried and true additions, but definitely add your spices).  Mix it all up very well.
  13. Take the cabbage leaves you had set aside and trim off the hard stem
  14. Add filling to the large flat part of the remaining leaf
  15. Roll it up
  16. Place all of the rolls into a greased baking dish, set on a cookie sheet
  17. Pour your sauce over all of the rolls
  18. Bake for an hour until everything is bubbly and golden.

Serve with sauce drizzled over the top of each roll.  Enjoy!

So, here’s to tasty Polish cookery and a bit of inventiveness.  This version sans-tomatoes was pretty tasty, even with the changes I hope to try next time to improve upon it further.  Enjoy all of your own cooking adventures!  Until next week.

Two golabki, broken open to expose filling, with extra sauce

Two golabki, broken open to expose filling, with extra sauce

* I have quite a few cookbooks because while I find that most of the time I’m able to just toss a bunch of stuff together and have it come out edible; I’m much less likely to do so when it comes to the oven if I don’t have the required temperatures and cook times on hand!  They’ve also proved useful for figuring out what to do with some of the more unusual ingredients that have come in our CSA this year.


6 thoughts on “Thursday Cooking Adventure: Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

    • G I totally miss my grandma’s versions too. She made the BEST perrogies. *sigh* IF I ever manage to make that recipe satisfactorily then I will totally get that recipe up too because they are….my favorite. I still think of her every time I smell the potatoes and cheese with pepper! 🙂

  1. MMmm…cabbage. My mom used to boil some with a few strips of bacon for an afternoon snack for me and my sis. Seriously! It was yummy, and we fought over who got to have that boiled strip of bacon…hehehe..

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