I love cabbage. It gets a pretty bad wrap, and it seems more and more, the hearty cabbage seems to be fading from the everyday culinary landscape. I'm not on a cabbage crusade by any stretch of the imagination, but there are a couple of things that one can make with cabbage that are among life's greatest pleasures. A hundred variations on cole slaw would be one, and golabki (this is the Polish word), or stuffed cabbage is another.
Often, I will hear people say things like, "making golabki is so much work - I don't bother anymore." Yes, it's work to make stuffed cabbage, just like it's work to make bread, or cook a roast, or make mashed potatoes, so what's the difference?? Either you're going to work and make stuff, or you can fill your pantry with shoes and just go out to eat all the time.
So, I had the big, beautiful head of cabbage. Now I had to do something with it. I made up my mind we (meaning dear sister Marianne, Dad and myself) would make golabki. With the holidays coming up, there would be any number of occasions where we could serve them. So, yesterday Dad went to our favorite Polish butcher - Joyview Meats (on Joy Rd. just east of Telegraph in Redford) and got two pounds of pork and one pound of beef (chuck) ground together. When I got home from work, I sauteed one large onion in butter with a little salt and pepper and then added the onion, a cup of cooked rice, a couple of crumbled chicken bouillon cubes and some salt and pepper to the meat. It went in a ziplock back and back in the fridge.
When I got home today, it was time to begin. With the meat filling ready to go, we got into the kitchen. I got the largest pot I have (I use it for canning) and filled it two-thirds with water and got in on the stove. You really can't start until you have your water at full boil. Dad cut the core (stem) out of the bottom of the cabbage. This helps the leaves to release when they are in the hot water. We put out some towels and got out the food scale. (Photo - there's Dad carefully lifting the cabbage leaves off the head as they blanch in the water and soften up a little)
Once the leaves come out of the pot, they have to be trimmed before they can be used. This was my job. You take the leaf and cut the center vein off the outside. This vein is always tough, and it prevents the leaf from rolling easily, so it really needs to be removed. With the vein off, the entire leaf is now the same thickness and the golabki are more uniform. But be careful, these leaves are hot coming out of the water and you don't want to tear them while trimming. Practice makes perfect! (Photo - me trimming the outside center vein of the cabbage leaf)
Once the leaf is trimmed, it's ready to roll! You can see the photo of the meat mixture (pork, beef, rice, onion and seasoning). Determining how much filling to put in each leaf depends on how large your leaves are and how much filling you have. We had nice, big leaves - so after some reviewing, we decided on 3 1/2 ounces of filling per leaf. As you continue to peel away at the cabbage, the leaves naturally get smaller, so the last few we did we only put in 3 ounces of filling.
It is usually easier to portion out the filling in advance. This way, when the cabbage leaves start coming to the table, you can start rolling. Sister was in charge of the rolling, and using a food scale she made up the filling portions and was ready to go! (Photo: Marianne at the table making up the filling for the golabki)
There is a little technique to rolling the golabki. Marianne has it down - you start with the filling at the bottom and roll once around, then you fold in the sides, and complete the rolling. This makes a nice, tight seal for the filling and totally surrounds it with cabbage goodness.
Notice (photo left) that before the golabki are put into the roasting pan, the pan is lined with cabbage leaves. These are either the outside leaves that are torn, or very thick and wouldn't work well for a roll. By doing this the golabki are sort of kept in a cabbage cocoon - never touching the sides of the roasting pan. It helps prevent browning of the golabki and infuses even more cabbage flavor.
Once the roasting pan is full, then the golabki is topped with it's tomato sauce. Nothing complicated here - we had a total of 18 golabki. I used two cans of condensed tomato soup along with one can of water. Heat in a sauce pan on the stove, and then ladle over the golabki.
After the tomato soup, sprinkle a little brown sugar on top (maybe 3 or 4 tablespoons). This gives just a hint of sweetness and deepens the flavor. It also cuts a bit of the acid from the tomato soup and the cabbage.
Just like the bottom of the pan, put cabbage leaves on top of the golabki once you have finished with the tomato soup and brown sugar. This will insure that the rolls don't brown from contact with the foil (which will go on top of the pan) and it will keep that cabbage flavor circulating while it bakes.
Finally, the golabki are ready to go in the oven. For the first bake, put them in for one and a half hour at 350 degrees. When you take them out, keep them covered. Let them cool. Put them in the refrigerator. DO NOT EAT THEM!! They haven't achieved their full potential - they must sit for a day (or two) and then, and only then, can you put them back in the oven for a second bake - one hour at 325 degrees, and enjoy every succulent bite! Or, you can put them in the freezer (like we're doing tonight) for a later time.