polish cabbage rolls

6 Nov

paleo golabki polish cabbage rollI can’t call this gołąbki because I felt like I sufficiently interpreted these such that I might get chided by a Pole. Namely, in that I didn’t include rice. Next time I will, I swear (but these are so good I’m not sure I want to change them…). I’ll try to make my grandma proud. I also feel funny because I’m no expert in Polish cuisine – it’s not exactly the most popular ethnic cuisine, with hipsters flocking to little holes-in-the-wall to debate the best pierogi in town. There are actually kind of a few restaurants here, but I haven’t made my way over to them yet. Most of them look kinda crappy. Like, trying to be cool when it’d just be better to be a no frills, oblivious to modern tastes kinda place and have really good, all homemade food. Ugh, that reminds me of a Mexican restaurant nearby that has an ADA-certifited heart-healthy menu or some junk. Stay the hell away from that place. Growing up, my mom used to make gołąbki all the time, but I was a kid and I was picky and I didn’t eat anything that wasn’t Polly-O string cheese. So, I’m kind of starting from scratch here, with nothing much to compare to. I’ve mostly seen these little pigeons (that’s what gołąbki means) with a tomato sauce, but both Polish cookbooks I have seemed to be sauce-ambivalent and said you could serve it with a number of sauces. So, I picked a mushroom sauce because I’ve been in the mood for mushrooms lately. Again, it’s interpreted – I didn’t want to use cream. If you happen to be Polish (or another Eastern European) and make these – what sauce do you like to make for them?
cored cabbage blanched cabbage leafboiled cabbageI feel sad that my grandma didn’t pass on her Polish traditions or language or recipes. On the one hand I’m really not one for blind traditions, or tradition for tradition’s sake. But on the other, I’d like to at least have been able to evaluate which traditions would have been interesting for me to adopt. And I’m also fascinated with old cultures that have ways of doing things that have stood the test of time for a reason – they’re healthful, they’re effective, whatever. Her parents emigrated from Poland and settled in southern Illinois before WWI. I never met either one, which is sad, but my mom can tell stories about them. My dad’s side of the family has been here for a long time, so there aren’t any Old World remnants. Maybe I should just go to Poland and stay in some old person’s house and learn how to cook from them. I have a Ukrainian friend who is so much fun to talk to about this stuff. I’m totally going to Eastern Europe/Russia with him and his family some time. What a blast it’ll be.
minced chopped onioncabbage roll meat mixtureEven though this seems like a fairly simple meal, it takes some time and is kind of a weekend one. I guess most of my posts are weekendy meals, because well, I make them on weekends when I’m not rushing home from the gym half-starved and clawing at the fridge for the first thing I can eat. I almost never have time to take pictures and such on a weekday. And especially now that it’s dark at 4pm. Ugh. And so on the weekends I’m in the mood to make more elaborate meals. You’ll have tons of leftovers from this, so it’s a good thing to start the week off with anyway. In fact, I had more meat stuffing than I could fit into my cabbage leaves, so I have bonus leftovers.
golubki cabbage roll paleo cabbage rolls
polish cabbage rolls
serves about 6
note: depending on the size of your cabbage head, and how much you stuff them, the amount of rolls you’ll get varies. Better to err on the side of a small dish – I used an 8×8. You can double layer the rolls. I had three that I had to make a second layer with.

1 head of cabbage, cored
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 pound of ground beef
1/2 pound of ground pork or veal
1 egg
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the cabbage head and remove the leaves to a bowl or strainer as they come off the head, about a few minutes for each. Aim for about 12 leaves. When you get to the center and the leaves are small, just take the head out, let cool and chop. Lay in the bottom of a casserole pan.

2. As the cabbage is boiling, heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add to a bowl and let cool for a few minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Add the beef, pork, and egg to the vegetables, along with salt and pepper, and mix well.

4. Lay each cabbage leaf out on a work surface (shake out any remaining water) and place about 1/3 cup of meat mixture (it’ll vary depending on the size of the leaf) at the base of the leaf. Roll up a little bit, then fold in the sides and continue to roll. Like a mini Polish burrito. Burrito-ski. Place each pigeon tightly in the baking dish, seam side down.

5. Place, uncovered, in the middle of the oven and bake for 2 hours, basting with the pan juices every 30 minutes, about.
fresh crimini mushroomsbrowning mushroomsWhile the cabbage rolls are nearing the end of baking, make…

mushroom sauce
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 pounds of cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 cup beef or chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
drippings from the cabbage rolls
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter over high heat. When the foaming has just died down, add the mushrooms. Stir frequently. First they will absorb the butter, then they’ll release their liquid, then soak it back up again.

2. Add the garlic, stir frequently for about 30 seconds – 1 minute, until the garlic is golden brown, then turn the heat down to medium. Add the broth and drippings and cook, stirring occasionally until the sauce has reduced. Season to taste.

Pour the sauce on top of the cabbage rolls and serve with sauerkraut and some sort of root veggie. Mashed potatoes, turnips, beets or something. Oh, sour cream, too if that’s your thing.
paleo golabki cabbage roll with mushroom saucepaleo polish golubki cabbage roll


30 Responses to “polish cabbage rolls”

  1. Donna November 7, 2012 at 01:39 #

    My weekend project…right here in front of me…This is THE sort of meal I’ve been craving with the cold weather and night falling so darn early….That it is PALEO…simply answers my prayers….Generous …you…for sharing your so appreciated creative “riffs” on traditional cuisines…It makes being paleo/primal so much easier and less stress-inducing. Often I spend hours trying to figure out just what I can prepare for my paleo self that will actually be eaten by my decidedly NON-paleo family….This offering will please absolutely ALL…..Thank you for your continued sharing.

    • Julie November 7, 2012 at 07:39 #

      Awesome!! See, my way of approaching Paleo is to not make foods overtly Paleo – like not to make tons of substitutions, but to just modify slightly and still use traditional techniques. So for this recipe, I just omitted rice (or pearl barley as is sometimes used) and didn’t forgive for that by adding in cauliflower rice or something. And when the mushroom sauce calls for flour for thickening, I just use reducing to achieve thickness instead of adding almond flour like I’ve seen people use. So, you’re welcome and I’m so glad you enjoy my recipes! Don’t stress too hard about trying to find things your whole family will like, just try making simple things on the weekdays that revolve around meat, vegetables, and a little starch. Hey, a (bunless) burger with bacon on top, sweet potato fries, and some real buttery broccoli should win most people over, right?

      • Donna November 7, 2012 at 08:09 #

        Right!!…Thanks so much and for the continued, quality support that your superbly-crafted blog provides…I’m a BIG believer in reductions concerning sauce-thickening as well..no need to go crazy with the almonds!…Always appreciative of your sharing..Have a lovely week.

  2. Jessica January 7, 2013 at 16:41 #

    This looks delicious! I need to try this! I have a friend who started the paleo way of like and she loves it! I just want to eat healthier and perform better!

    • Julie January 7, 2013 at 20:09 #

      Let me know how you like it when you make it!

      Well, paleo is definitely a good way to eat healthier and it helps you perform better 🙂

  3. Chris January 9, 2013 at 08:34 #

    I do mostly Ketogenic eating, but I think I could makes these minus the mushroom sauce. Do you have the carb count for the cabbage wraps. Also, as one of Polish heritage, these look fantastic!

    • Julie January 9, 2013 at 12:24 #

      You should probably just eat real food and stop caring about carb counts…. unless you’re metabolically deranged… in which case all I can say is no I don’t have the carb count!

      • Chris January 9, 2013 at 12:27 #

        I do eat real food. But thanks for the quick reply.

  4. PopularPaleo January 10, 2013 at 14:14 #

    I’m a little ashamed to admit I’ve never had a cabbage roll before. This recipe has made me a believer! I know what project I’ll be working on this weekend! Looks delicious!

  5. misterworms January 10, 2013 at 14:45 #

    My Polish grandma ate bread like the rest of ’em but never put rice in her golabki as she recognized that it was just cheap filler 😉 We always had golabki with the plain, clear broth that came out of the pot and I usually do it the same way. When I’m feeling fancy, though, I do prefer the mushroom sauce over tomato.

    • Julie January 10, 2013 at 15:15 #

      I’m glad I’m vindicated in leaving out the rice! Smart cookies, us Polish. (Ignoring all Polish stereotype jokes…)

  6. misterworms January 10, 2013 at 14:48 #

    Oh, forgot to add a cool trick I learned for prepping the cabbage. Instead of boiling, you can freeze the whole cabbage heads ahead of time (2 days or so?) and when they defrost the leaves are nice and floppy for assembly.

    • PopularPaleo January 10, 2013 at 15:05 #

      Awesome tip!

    • Julie January 10, 2013 at 15:12 #

      That’s a neat idea! I’m never very good at planning ahead though 😦
      I’d either 1) forget to freeze it time or 2) forget to defrost it in time. Number two is my major problem with buying most of my meat from a farm. FUCK IT’S STILL FROZEN.

  7. Arlene January 10, 2013 at 17:25 #

    I am polish and grew up in a eastern European neighborhood (actually nicknamed Polish Heaven). I was blessed to have been taught all of the classic polish recipes from my mother and grandmother. Here is the polish version adapted from my
    cookbook “Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans”:

    1 lb ground beef
    1/2 lb ground pork or veal
    1/2 c rice boiled (if using)
    1 egg
    1 onion chopped fine
    2 T butter
    salt and pepper
    1 head cabbage

    Core and scald the cabbage in boiling water. Remove a few leaves as they wilt. Cool before using.

    Saute onion in butter until transparent. Combine with meat, egg, rice and seasonings and mix well. Spread each leaf with meat about a 1/2 inch thick,fold the two opposite sides and roll. Fasten with toothpick if desired.

    To cook-place cabbage rolls in baking dish cover with 5 slices of bacon and roast uncovered for 2 hours at 300 degrees. Baste from time to time. Watch closely and add water if needed. Golabki may be served with mushroom sauce, tomato sauce or sour cream. Even better the next day when reheated.

    Here is the slovak version adapted from my cookbook “Dobre Chutnany published by the Czechoslovakian Moravian Club in Binghamton, NY.


    1 medium head cabbage
    1 medium onion minced
    1 T butter
    I lb lean ground beef
    1 lb ground pork
    1 c raw rice
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp pepper
    1/2 tsp paprika
    1 c sauerkraut, drained
    1 small can tomato puree
    1 can cream of tomato soup

    Core and parboil cabbage 2 to 3 minutes in rapid boiling water, drain. Saute onion in butter until golden; combine with beef, pork and rice. Add seasonings. Trim thick outer veins from cabbage leaves and spoon about 2 T of beef filling in center of leaf. Roll up and tuck in ends. Spread sauerkraut in bottom of kettle; arrange rolls in layers over the kraut, seam side down. Add boiling water to cover by an inch. Mix tomato puree and cream of tomato soup; add to pot. Simmer covered for 1 hour. For best flavor, refrigerate after cooled for 2-3 days or at least overnight. When reheating for serving, add water or beef stock if necessary.

    • Julie January 10, 2013 at 17:29 #

      I totally have that first cookbook.

  8. Ieva January 11, 2013 at 07:47 #

    Hey it is not only Polish but also Lithuanian 🙂 And when my mum was lazy to roll the meat she just used to make a sort of pie: you have to put in layers the same ingredients in the pan, put the souce on it and bace. It is little bit quicker and extremely delicious! Niam, that is going to be my dinner today! Can´t wait and thank you for an amazing blog.

  9. Tori June 30, 2013 at 20:47 #

    My mom actually adapted her mothers recipe for golabki to a soup form by shredding the cabbage it’s delsih and I’m lucky to have strong Polish traditions still in my family in Western NY

  10. julka August 14, 2013 at 02:34 #

    We actually eat gołąbki with tomato sauce (or just ketchup) in Poland 🙂

  11. fromliljskitchen November 14, 2013 at 08:36 #

    I made this last nigh….wow! So impressed! Granted we didn’t eat till 8:30, but it was worth it. Although…next time I’m growing to need to quadruple the mushrooms, they stole the show! Thank you, I will be posting my results on my blog shortly! 🙂

    • fromliljskitchen November 14, 2013 at 08:37 #

      Sorry for all the typos :p

      • Julie November 14, 2013 at 09:41 #

        It’s okay, eating late at night will do that to you. I keep finding myself deliriously eating at like 10pm or worse. I feel all wonky in the morning.

    • Julie November 14, 2013 at 09:40 #

      I’m so glad you liked it! I want to eat some. Dammit, I’m gonna have to make them this weekend!

      • Kate Thomas January 26, 2014 at 22:42 #

        These were off the hook. We had some hydroponic local tomatoes so I used three in the sauce in place of the broth. So good…and we ate mashed turnips on the side. It was hard to hold back so there will be some for lunch tomorrow, but we managed it. Thanks for a great new staple. My gramma would be proud.

      • Julie February 12, 2014 at 09:50 #

        I’m so glad you liked the recipe! Mmmm, mashed turnips. So good.


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