Thanks to a clever shortcut and a secret ingredient, this Polish Golumpki recipe will be your new favorite way to cook stuffed cabbage.
This winter, my wife and I joined a CSA from a local farm. A CSA is a subscription with a local farm where you pay in advance and receive a regular schedule of seasonal goods. You essentially buy a share of their season's produce. Though CSAs also exist for meat, baked goods, and other specific niches. Depending on the situation, you may select what you want to receive each time (whether that's weekly, biweekly, or some other schedule), or the farm may pick it out for you. It's a good way to support farms and food producers directly. That's why CSA stands for community-supported agriculture.
If you're familiar with CSAs, you may have thought they only existed in summer, when our local farms have the most to offer. Yet, for home gardeners like us, a winter CSA actually makes the most sense. We often don't need too much produce in summer, but winter is another story. It's when we don't have anything from our garden to enjoy, aside from what we canned or froze. With the particular CSA we're part of with Evening Song Farm of Cuttingsville, we pick out in advance what we want each week. This time of year mostly includes staples we would be buying anyway, such as carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes. They've had a limited, though much appreciated, supply of greens such as spinach and mesclun over the past few weeks.
what to do with cabbage
One item we're regularly ordering is cabbage. Though cabbage is generally available year-round locally, it's a distinct winter vegetable in my mind. Sure, there's coleslaw, but cabbage is a dense, crunchy vegetable I find fitting for stews and other heavier winter dishes. It lasts forever, too, which is why it makes sense in a winter CSA and why I have a stockpile in my fridge.
Cabbage is a great vegetable for fall and winter side dishes. Often, I like to braise cabbage, either red or green, with some garlic, hard cider, and a splash of vinegar. I cook it so that there some crunch left and serve it on the side of broiled sausages. It's a go-to quick dinner for us.
What are Golumpki?
Of course, cabbage has many uses, and one I love is Polish Golumpki or stuffed cabbage leaves. Stuffed cabbage is a simple comfort food found in cultures throughout the world, especially central Europe. The general idea is that cabbage leaves are wrapped around a ground meat filling that includes rice or another grain. Or make them vegetarian just as easily by using cooked lentils in place of ground meat. The seasonings vary depending on the country of origin, and the sauce, often tomato-based, may be sweet, savory, or a little sweet and sour.
Though simple, it seems the variations on stuffed cabbage are endless. You'll find the dish not just in Polish cooking, but also Jewish, Italian, Bulgarian, Greek, Croatian, Czech, and Hungarian. Who first started stuffing cabbage is unknown. What everyone may agree on, however, is the comforting nature of the dish and its relevance during winter and special occasions.
As for the name "golumpki," it's the Polish word for "pigeon," which is what people liked to say the stuffed cabbages resemble.
make easier golumpki using a microwave
Stuffed cabbage seems tedious, and it's why for many years, I opted to make it in a slow cooker. I thought that made it easier. But I don't use a slow cooker much anymore, and I encountered the same problem I always do - they overcook the food! The ground meat filling doesn’t need a long time to cook and tenderize, as you need with a beef stew. Instead, it creates a strange, tough texture I don't enjoy.
My Polish Golumpki recipe simplifies the process by first steaming a whole head of cabbage in a bowl of water in the microwave. Forget blanching. With the microwave, the leaves are tender in no time and ready to fill with a mix of meat, rice, and spices.
I coat it all in a simple sauce of crushed tomatoes, garlic, and thanks to the idea from The Aleppo Cookbook, some pomegranate molasses for a perfect sweet and sour flavor. (OK, so maybe it's not that secret of an ingredient.) The dish then bakes in just about 30 minutes.