How To Make Golabki – Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Traditional Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe (Polish Golabki) combines ground beef, ground pork and rice and topped with 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

I have been on a quest to recreate my husband’s grandmother’s Golabki recipe.  Golabki, pronounced gowumpkee is also known as Polish 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.

How to Make Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

The stuffed cabbage roll recipe starts 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 Recipe - Cabbage Rolls - from ZagLeft
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4.5 from 10 votes

Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) Recipe

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
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Main Dish
Keyword: cabbage rolls
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

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  • Remove the large, damaged outer leaves of the cabbage and discard.
  • 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.
  • Blanch the cabbage leaves in the pot of water, boiling for 4-5 minutes.
  • 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.
  • MAKE THE SAUCE
  • Coat a large saucepan with oil and place over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute' for 1 minute.
  • Add the 2 cans of diced tomatoes with their juices to the saucepan, stir and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Add the vinegar and sugar; simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
  • Season with the salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
  • MAKE THE ONION AND GARLIC MIXTURE
  • Place a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Saute' the onion and the garlic for about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the tomato paste, red wine and 3/4 cup of the prepared tomato sauce, mix and remove from the heat.
  • PREPARE THE FILLING
  • 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.
  • Stir or toss the filling together using your hands to combine. Set aside.
  • TO ASSEMBLE
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fold the sides in and roll up the cabbage to enclose the filling.
  • Place the cabbage rolls side by side in rows, seam side down in the baking dish.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • 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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