How To Make Golabki – Cabbage Rolls

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How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce.

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How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

I have been on a quest to recreate my husband’s grandmother’s Golabki recipe.  Golabki, pronounced gowumpkee is also known as Stuffed Cabbage Rolls and it’s a Polish dish consisting of cabbage leaves stuffed with a savory mix of beef, pork and rice.    This quest of mine has been more of an exploratory journey.  One filled with many trials and quite a number of errors.  But after all, what fun is arriving at the desired destination if not by traveling through the maze of highs and lows, right?

It’s hard to discern if the memory associated with this dish is tied to the well-seasoned mix of flavors, or if it’s tied to the memory of the experience of eating it with EJ’s beloved grandmother.  Either way, EJ has been asking me to make Golabkis for many years now.  And I hesitated.  What big shoes for me to fill. Was I up for the challenge?  Many days I wasn’t – until only recently.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

EJ’s grandmother came to America from Poland.  She raised her family in Connecticut and later moved to California.  I first met “Mary” at our wedding and loved her instantly.  Both of my grandmothers had passed away many years before and Mary loved me and treated me like her own granddaughter.  She had a wonderful smile and lit up every room she entered.

With the birth of each of our children, Mary would come to visit us for a week or two.  It was a much welcomed visit.  I was an exhausted new mom, operating on very little sleep.  Mary would hold and sing to our babies, play with our older children and give me a break while I managed to get a little rest.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

While Mary visited, she would also try to teach me to prepare her Golabkis and her Periogis.  I listened as well as I could, but to be honest, I was too focused on either the baby, on the laundry or on any number of things new mothers tend to focus on.  I failed to write down this recipe and document the experience.  Looking back, I think of how foolish I was not to pay closer attention.  The gift of spending time with older relatives is so often taken for granted and realized too late.

I do, however, have fond memories of Mary mixing the ingredients together without measuring any of them and tasting as she went along to assure that all the spices were perfect.  We would laugh together as she patiently showed me time and again how to roll the cabbage so that the stuffing wouldn’t pour out the sides.  She would tell me, “great job”, even though my rolls looked more like mush than the clean, perfectly stuffed packages she made.  Such patience she had with me.

Over her many visits, the method of making Golabkis stayed in my mind.  I remembered the basic ingredients and I remembered the process of making them.  It was the little nuances of the flavors that had escaped me.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

So this was where my quest began.  Since I already knew the basic ingredients, I needed to focus on getting the flavors right.  I was ready to dive in.

A few weeks ago, after my third attempt at making Golabkis, I thought I had the flavors just right.  I mixed and measured and tasted along the way, but in the end, both EJ and I were convinced that some key ingredient was still missing.  While the Golabkis I made were good, they weren’t right – they weren’t perfect – they weren’t what EJ remembered.

We needed to go to a Polish source.

So, we set out to taste Golabkis from Polonia’s Polish Restaurant in Houston.  This was a great experience for us.  If you find yourselves in Houston and want to eat authentic Polish food, Polonia’s is the place to go.  At the restuarant we certainly had our fill of good Polish food.  We enjoyed Golabkis, Periogis (dough stuffed with potatoes and cheese) and delicious Polish Sausage.  After tasting the Golabkis from Polonia’s, I immediately knew what ingredient was missing from mine.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

A few days later, I made Golabkis again and tweaked the recipe to add in the flavor that I thought was missing and they turned out just as EJ remembered it from his grandmother.

Here’s what I did and here’s how you make them…

Start out by choosing a large leafy head of cabbage.  Peel the large leaves off carefully, trying to keep them whole.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

Some leaves will fall apart and although not ideal, you can still use them.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

After you’ve collected your cabbage leaves, blanch them in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes.  Run the leaves under cool water and lay them out to use later.

The next step is to make up a sweet and tangy tomato sauce.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

After you finish with the tomato sauce, make the filling by combining ground beef, ground pork, cooked rice, an egg, sauteed onions and garlic with a bit of the tomato sauce.  Mix the filling together (with your hands works best), season with salt and pepper and place about 1/3 cup of this filling mixture in the center of each cabbage leaf.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

Starting with the stem-end, fold the sides in and roll up the cabbage to enclose the filling.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

Place the cabbage rolls side by side in rows, seam-side down, in a casserole dish.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls.  Cover and bake.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

These Golabkis were perfectly seasoned and most importantly, they were exactly the way EJ remembered them to be.

How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. | zagleft.com

Golabki (Cabbage Rolls) Recipe
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 mins
 
How to make traditional Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) combining ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. zagleft.com
Course: Main Dish
Servings: 16 Rolls
Author: Joanie Zisk
Ingredients
  • 1 large head green cabbage (or 2 small green cabbages)
SAUCE
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic , chopped
  • (2) 28 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
CABBAGE ROLLS
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion , chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic , minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 large egg , lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked white rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Remove the large, damaged outer leaves of the cabbage and discard.
  3. Carefully peel off the large cabbage leaves from the head of the cabbage, setting aside the leaves that are whole and big enough to stuff.
  4. Blanch the cabbage leaves in the pot of water, boiling for 4-5 minutes.
  5. Drain the cabbage in a colander and run the leaves under cold water. Lay the leaves out on a cutting board and pat dry with a paper towel.
  6. MAKE THE SAUCE
  7. Coat a large saucepan with oil and place over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute' for 1 minute.
  8. Add the 2 cans of diced tomatoes with their juices to the saucepan, stir and cook for 3 minutes.
  9. Add the vinegar and sugar; simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
  10. Season with the salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
  11. MAKE THE ONION AND GARLIC MIXTURE
  12. Place a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Saute' the onion and the garlic for about 5 minutes.
  13. Stir in the tomato paste, red wine and 3/4 cup of the prepared tomato sauce, mix and remove from the heat.
  14. PREPARE THE FILLING
  15. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef and the ground pork. Add the egg, the cooked rice, the sauteed onion and garlic mixture and the salt and pepper.
  16. Stir or toss the filling together using your hands to combine. Set aside.
  17. TO ASSEMBLE
  18. Pour 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce onto the bottom of a 13x9 inch baking dish. Spread the sauce with a spoon so it covers the entire bottom of the dish.
  19. Take each cabbage leaf and place 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the filling in the center. Fold the base of the leaf up and over the filling until it's completely covered.
  20. Fold the sides in and roll up the cabbage to enclose the filling.
  21. Place the cabbage rolls side by side in rows, seam side down in the baking dish.
  22. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  23. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour until the meat is cooked.

 

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38 COMMENTS

  1. So you have my curiosity…. what was missing??? You gave us a beautiful recipe, story and tutorial, but left out what was the one thing you figured out that needed to be tweaked? I’m dying to know 🙂

    • The secret ingredient is bacon i put a pound of bacon diced up to two and a pounds of 80 20 chop meat and i use two large cans of puree with a little sugar and a half of squeezed lemon for the sauce

  2. Thank you! I’m a major lover of cabbage rolls and I’ve been on a quest to find a good recipe. I’ve made them about 5 times and finally got it right with your recipe! These are amazing and perfect and my family cannot stop raving about them. Thank you!!

    • Linda,
      I’m so happy you liked the recipe. It took me a while before I finally found the combination of flavors I remembered from my husband’s grandmother’s recipe. I’m glad your family enjoyed them.

  3. You should try putting the whole head of cabbage into the pot of boiling water and then core it and then remove the leaves. It will result in a lot less damage to the individual leaves.

    Also, can you tell us what the ingredient was that was missing that you finally figured out at the Polish restaurant?

    • Thank you Lucie for the tip. I’ll have to try cooking the cabbage that way next time.

      It’s hard to say exactly what specific ingredient the other cabbage rolls were missing, only that my husband and I remembered a heartier sauce with a stronger tomato flavor.

      Thanks again for the tip!

    • So do you mean that you just blanche the cabbage to soften the leaves near the base or are you saying we should cook the cabbage?

  4. This recipe sounds great and close to what my grandmothers would make but both of them and my mom also used sauerkraut to fill in the crevices of the rolled cabbages and I believe that really gave it the tangy taste. My grandmothers were from Slovakia but a couple of my uncles married Polish women and the recipes were almost identical. I made them perfectly the first time my mother gave the recipe over the phone but later I experiment with different seasonings and they tasted terrible! Never use cumin or strange things like that for cabbage rolls. My father also loved her stuffed peppers but I hated them as a kid–wouldn’t mind having them now though. Leonard

    • Leonard,

      When I was researching the recipe, I was surprised at how many different ways there were to make cabbage rolls. It seems each family had a unique ingredient they liked to use. I like the idea of using sauerkraut, my husband likes a more tangy flavor. I’ll have to give it a try when I make them again. Thank you for your suggestion. Have a great week.

  5. I was looking for a recipe for golumpki which seemed to be close to what I remember my mother and grandmother making when I was young. I never made them before and of course paid little attention to how they were made when I was young. This recipe looked closest to what I remember so I made it. I made two small changes as I did not have any kosher salt (used sea salt) or white rice (used 2 cups of whole grain brown rice). I was very happy with the result. They were very similar to what I remember and my wife and I enjoyed eating them.

    • Walter,

      I’m so glad you liked the recipe. I remember when my husband’s grandmother came to stay with us and made golumpkis and perogies, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the process and now years later, I regret that. This was recipe was very close in flavor to hers, but it would have been a lot easier had I watched and learned. Have a great week!

          • my mom was polish…rip….she always made golabki…..and i always remember her using salt pork….and boiling the whole head less the core…much easier to fill&roll….I just made some last night…..mmmmmm…. out delivering them to kids today….they love them….so good…..thank you for wanting to keep these great foods alive

  6. Does anyone have the recipe for what I believe is called, “Zazi”? It’s a thin strip of meat with onion, bacon and a bread filling that’s rolled into each other and held together with a toothpick? Please send that to my facebook page at Scotty Andrew Gustafski, Thanks!

  7. My husband’s family was Polish and Hungarian on his father’s side. I was told that I had to learn how to make this dish since it is a family favorite. My trick is to blanch the cabbage with out the core. As the cabbage softens, I dip them in water. I tried the ice water but found it made the cabbage too brittle. I prefer tap water. Once it cools a bit then I drain the leaves and remove the core. I also squeeze the leaves dry. Martha Steward uses a tea towel but I found it damage the leaves too much. I prefer to roll the leaf up and gently squeeze out the leaf. Then I fill the leaf with the stuffing. I also try to squeeze more liquid from each cabbage roll and then line them up in a baking dish with the seam side down. I also make my own sauce or gravy. I pack the cabbage rolls as close as possible so when it cooks they don’t break apart. Make sure the sauce covers all of the cabbage rolls so they don’t burn. I cover with foil for 45 min and then uncover so the sauce will reduce by half. It may take another 15 min.

    These are my tricks to make a moist cabbage roll. I love making them on cold days.

  8. Delicious! Thanks. I always have trouble with the rolling of the leaves. This will help me very much.
    Also I never thought of pelling the leaves first instead of blanching the head irself. This sounds so much easter and faster.

  9. I freeze the head of cabbage instead of boiling. It makes the outer leaves limp and pliable and the inner part of the cabbage head is still usable.

    • YES!!! My sister told me this and it saves a ton of time and burnt fingers from any boiled water. Keep them in the freezer and then take them out and let them thaw out. The leaves wilt and come off more easily. Making about 4 dozen for our multicultural church dinner this weekend. Of course, I am not bringing ALL of them to the dinner…..gotta save some for home use.
      Na zdrowie!

    • What a great idea! I will def. try this. My Polish mom makes amazing gołąbki and she always cuts the core out of hte head of cabbage and steams it in the boiling water until she can remove one leaf at a time. Freezing is sooo much easier. We're making cabbage rolls for Thanksgiving and I will try this tomorrow.

  10. I use sour crout in between layers in a clay baking dish. Line it with unusable cabbage leaves and also pour some brine from dill pickles over them. If no dill pickles available use dill herbs in the filling. Also cover the rolls with left over cabbage rolls. And must be served with sour cream on the side..

  11. Another trick is to shave off part of the "vein" on the cabbage leaf. Otherwise that one part is very thick. Just a tip my busia taught me when making these. I also cook the onions first, and add some beef bouillion.

  12. I boil my cabbage in water with vinegar added. I have also tasted some made with whole sauerkraut cabbage and they were delicious, too.

  13. Thanks so much for sharing your version of the recipe, Joanie. I think it is awesome that you worked to recreate a family tradition for your husband! As a native Polish speaker, I thought you might like to know that Gołąbki is plural. One cabbage role is a gołąbek. Same with pierogi, which is plural. One is a pierog.

    I've been craving cabbage rolls and so yesterday my husband and I decided that we would spend our quiet Thanksgiving Day making a huge batch together and sharing them with some friends the next day. I'm going to experiment tonight by throwing a head of cabbage in the freezer, a tip from Nana, above. Sounds brilliant!

    A Green: my mom also shaves off the thick part of the cabbage rib, and I will do that as well.

    Joanie, I'm going to try your version of the tomato sauce. It sounds tastier than my mom's. She uses a large tin of tomato juice mixed with a can of cream of tomato soup. (I can't eat the canned soups.)

    And I adore sauerkraut, and will see if I can talk hubbie into layering at least some of the rolls with it, perhaps in a small casserole. Thanks for the commenters who suggested that!

  14. I cut out most of the core of the cabbage and place this side down in a large plastic bowl with about a half a cup of water. Cover with plastic wrap in microwave for 10 minutes. Remove from bowl with meat fork, placing it on a plate to cool.

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