Authentic Polish Golumpki (aka Gwumpki): Cabbage Roll Recipe
My Boyfriend Likes This More Than Sex!
My boyfriend is Polish, and he swore that nobody could beat his golumpkis. Despite my Irish background, I took him up on his challenge, and he was not a sore loser. He will not even make golumpkis anymore; I have to cook them by the dozens for him. He tells me that he has sweet dreams about my making this recipe, and that given the choice between sex and my golumpkis, he would choose the latter—most of the time.
What Is a Golumpki?
Golumpki, also known as gwumpki or golabki, is a traditional Polish dish consisting of boiled cabbage leaves wrapped around a tasty filling of meat, vegetables, and rice. The dish is popular all over Central Europe, and every region has its own unique variation. In Poland, as well as in Polish-American communities in the United States, this dish is traditionally made for special occasions like Christmas, Easter, and family get-togethers.
It Takes Time, but the Reward Is Worth It
Making golumpkis easily takes the better part of a day. The sauce must simmer, the cabbage must steam, the rice must boil, and the meat mixture must be prepared. Then, and only then, can the golumpkis finally be filled, rolled, and baked.
In my opinion, the tomato sauce is one of the key elements of this recipe. Unlike a simple pasta sauce, this sauce is enhanced by caramelized onions, a lengthy simmer, and the addition of ingredients that complement the meat and cabbage. Many traditional golumpki recipes use tomato soup as a base for the sauce. I feel that my sauce tops a tomato soup sauce hands down. Tomato soup is nice with grilled cheese for a quick lunch, but perfect golumpkis need a sauce with more depth of flavor.
How Much Does This Recipe Make?
This recipe makes enough to feed a crowd. It is perfect for a holiday meal, church supper, large dinner party, or plenty of leftovers for future meals.
Yield: 5 dozen golumpkis
Preparation is key. I buy disposable aluminum pans ahead of time to bake this dish. A half-size aluminum pan (half the size of a chafing dish) will hold 10 to 12 rolled golumpkis. Cabbage rolls freeze well, and the aluminum pans save a little bit of time since the finished dish can go directly from the oven to the freezer (after you've allowed it to come to room temperature first, of course).
Here is a checklist of essential supplies that will help you create this delicious stuffed cabbage recipe:
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
2-3 large mixing bowls
Aluminum baking pans
2-3 smaller bowls
2 large stockpots
Pan with cover
Large cutting board
Sharp paring knife
Sharp chef's knife
Step 1: Prepare the Tomato Sauce
Okay, here we go. If you start the tomato sauce first, then you can move on to the next step while the sauce simmers.
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 large Vidalia onions, chopped
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
- 3 cloves garlic, mashed and diced (mash the garlic by using the flat side of a chef's knife and then dice)
- 1 (12-ounce) can or bottle beer (a pilsner style is best)
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 (28-ounce) cans tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the oil in a large stockpot or saucepot to medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the Vidalia onions and sugar. You are starting the caramelization process. The sugar needs to boil in order to caramelize the onions. Stir frequently to avoid burning. I like to use wooden spoons when stirring the sauce. You get a better feel for ingredients stuck to the bottom of the pan while cooking when you use a wooden spoon, and this type of spoon will not scrape your pots and pans like metal ones do. This process will take approximately 20 to 30 minutes. The onions will change color from white to a caramel color, as seen in the photo.
- Once the onions are caramelized, reduce the heat to medium and add the sliced mushrooms and garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not let the garlic burn. Once the mushrooms are soft, add the beer. Cook until this mixture is hot and bubbling, about 5 minutes.
- Add all of the tomato ingredients: tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Fill one of the empty tomato sauce cans all the way to the top with water and then add the water to the stockpot. Add the Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until simmering and small bubbles appear. Reduce the heat to low. Stir occasionally while allowing to simmer as you proceed to the next step: preparing the cabbage and rice.
Step 2: Prepare the Cabbage and Rice
Now that your sauce is simmering away, you can prepare your cabbages and rice.
- 4 (5-to-6-ounce) boxes long-grain and wild rice mix (I recommend Near East, Uncle Ben's or Mahatma brands)
- 5 medium-to-large heads cabbage
- In a large covered pan, prepare all four boxes of long-grain and wild rice mix, following the instructions on the box. Turn off the rice when it is cooked and allow it to cool.
- While the rice is cooking, you can begin preparing the cabbage leaves. Add water to a large stockpot about 1/3 full. Start to boil the water.
- Using a paring knife, remove the core from the bottoms of the cabbages.
- Once the water in the stockpot has come to the boil, place each cabbage, one at a time, core-side down into the stockpot. Allow the outer leaves of the cabbage to steam until soft. Basically, you are blanching the outer leaves. Wearing oven mitts or using a towel, use a large slotted spoon to remove the soft cabbage from the stockpot.
- Place the cabbage on a large cutting board and use tongs to remove the leaves. Be careful not to tear the leaves. Rinse the leaves in a colander under cool water, pat dry with a paper towel, and set aside on a plate or cutting board. You may have to place the cabbage back into the pot several times in order to blanch and peel off 12 leaves from each head. Do this until all five cabbages have been blanched, and you have 60 large cabbage leaves. Caution: You are working with boiling water and steam. Take every precaution to ensure that you do not burn yourself while removing cabbage leaves.
- You will have a small inner core head of cabbage left over after removing the leaves. Take two of these small cabbage heads and chop finely. Add this chopped cabbage to your sauce. Use the other three heads in other recipes or chop and freeze for future use.
Note: For the remaining cabbage that you won't be using, I might suggest making kapusta, another wonderful Polish recipe that consists of sauteed onions and cabbage mixed with kielbasa or smoked sausage. Like golumpkis, kapusta freezes well for a future meal.
Step 3: Prepare the Meat Filling
Now that all of the main ingredients are cooked, we need to mix up our meat filling.
- 4 pounds lean ground beef
- 4 pounds ground pork
- Long-grain and wild rice mix, cooked (see recipe above)
- 6 large eggs
- 4 Gala apples, peeled, cored, and diced
- 2 teaspoons sage
- 2 teaspoons savory
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- In a large bowl, combine all of the above ingredients.
- Mix well.
How to Roll Stuffed Cabbage
Step 4: Fill, Roll, and Bake
We've finally reached the exciting moment! It's time to put everything together.
- 2 pounds uncooked bacon strips
- Cabbage leaves, steamed (see recipe above)
- Meat and rice mixture (see recipe above)
- Tomato sauce (see recipe above)
- Cut the bacon strips into thirds and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of filling, fill and roll the cabbage leaves. Place 1 cabbage leaf on the cutting board with the coarse, cut end facing you. The leaf should be placed cup side up, or curled side up. Add the filling. Fold the two sides in over the meat and roll tightly. Golumpkis should be about the size of the top of your fist when rolled. See the video above for a demonstration of how to do this.
- Using a ladle, ladle some of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place the rolled golumpki evenly and tightly together in the aluminum pans (about 12 golumpkis will fit into each pan). Ladle more sauce on top of the rolls until they are covered.
- Place 1 piece of cut bacon on top of each stuffed cabbage roll. Once filled, cover the pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove, serve, and enjoy!
Would You Eat Golumpkis Here or There?
Serving Suggestions and How to Freeze
- Serving suggestions: Sour cream is a tasty and traditional condiment for stuffed cabbage rolls. Additional sides include mashed potatoes, applesauce, beet salad, or dinner rolls.
- How to freeze: You can easily freeze the remaining rolls; remember, you can transfer the disposable aluminum trays directly from the oven to the freezer (make sure you allow them to come to room temperature first). You may also want to hide the leftovers from your partner, or you won't get any nookie until they are all gone! Maybe it is a better idea to get some nookie first by offering to make these tempting golumpkis...
- Dessert idea: I love making these spritz cookies, and I think they make a wonderfully light dessert pairing with golumpkis.