One thing you need to know about stuffed cabbage rolls, a Polish dish of golabki: it’s not the inordinately massive job that it seems. Stuffing steamed cabbage leaves with a mix of parboiled rice and pork mince is really easy. And the oven braised cabbage rolls with tomato sauce and freshly made mashed potatoes are a proper comfort food feast.
Foods stuffed, foods wrapped
Mankind has always had a predilection to wrapping little bits of food in leaves. I expect it comes from the hunter-gatherer (or rather the cooker-preparer who sat in the cave) who was trying to save some for later and there was no cling film.
Who subsequently discovered that those bits of food are even nicer if cooked in those leafy parcels? Who knows? I am more and more convinced these days that all recipes always come from the need to make food stretch or last longer. You didn’t need a recipe to put an ox on the spit, did you?
Food parcels across the globe
The outer packaging depends on what’s at hand or grows on the tree outside. Banana, bamboo or betel leaves in some places, grape or fig in others and cabbage for the northern unfortunates.
The filling is very frequently rice-based: in the Far East naturally, but surprisingly also in Sweden, Ukraine and New Zealand. If there’s meat in the mix, it’s meant to feed many with little; if it’s vegetables or seafood, the leaves provide protection from excessive heat and preserve succulence and flavours.
Golabki, pigeons, cabbage rolls
These are stuffed cabbage rolls which in my house go by the name of pigeons. Golubki (or spelled properly with all the squiggles: golabki) literally means ‘little pigeons’ or ‘little doves’ in Polish.
I honestly don’t know whether I’m right thinking it’s because they look like little sleeping birds all curled up, heads tucked underneath the wings but I have never called them other than pigeons in English language.My family and friends all know them thus as well.
When I first made them in England, years ago, nobody wanted to eat them but I think it was more in response to my cooking skills back then. Also I wanted to please too hard and I made the filling almost entirely of meat which was far too heavy.
When I made them again a couple of years ago for a New Year’s Eve gathering, everyone hoovered them up and looked for more.
Traditional recipe? There are many
I don’t really like the ‘traditional’ stamp that is made authoritatively on ethnic dishes. I’ve eaten lots of pigeons (I’ll stick to the name until it catches on widely) back in Poland and I know every cook has their own variation.
White cabbage, savoy cabbage, rice, buckwheat, precooked, raw, sear them before braising, cook on the hob, bake in oven, tomato sauce or no sauce – let no Italian ever tells me again that there is only one gold standard recipe for ragù Bolognese.
This is my way then, with savoy cabbage, parboiled brown rice, oven baked in tomato sauce. I don’t think it’s the BEST! EVER! but it’s how I like them. See if you do too…