Thanks to a simple shortcut and a unique 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 farm where you pay in advance and receive a regular schedule of seasonal goods. You essentially buy a share of their season's produce.
If you're familiar with CSAs, you may have thought they only existed in summer, when 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 fresh from our garden to enjoy, aside from what we canned or froze.
One item we're regularly getting right now is cabbage. Cabbage is a dense, crunchy vegetable 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 also a great vegetable for fall and winter side dishes. Often, I like to braise cabbage, either red or green, with some garlic, cider, and a splash of vinegar. If that sounds good to you, check out my recipe for Instant Pot red cabbage and apples.
🥬 What are Golumpki?
Of course, cabbage has many uses, and one of the best is for making stuffed cabbage. Stuffed cabbage is a simple comfort food found in cultures throughout the world, though it's believed to have originated in Poland. That's why is often referred to by the Polish names of Golumpki, Galumpki, or Golabki.
The general idea is that softened cabbage leaves are wrapped around a ground meat filling that includes rice or another grain. They may also be made vegetarian by using cooked lentils in place of the ground meat. The seasonings vary based on the recipe's origin, and the sauce, usually tomato-based, may be sweet, savory, or like the one in my recipe here: a little sweet and sour.
Though a simple dish, it seems the variations on Golumpki are endless. You'll find the dish not just in Polish cooking, but also Jewish, Italian, Bulgarian, Greek, Croatian, Czech, and Hungarian. While the ingredients may vary, everyone agrees on the satisfying nature of the dish in winter cooking.
🐄 Key Ingredients
To make this stuffed cabbage recipe, you'll need:
- a large green cabbage
- basmati rice
- ground beef
- crushed tomatoes
- pomegranate molasses
Adding pomegranate molasses to the crushed tomatoes creates a tangy yet slightly sweetened sauce that I love. It's not your typical flavored tomato sauce and I think it contrasts nicely with the savory nature of the cabbage. I got the idea from the Aleppo Cookbook, a great look at the foods of Syria.
If you're not familiar with pomegranate molasses, it's one of my favorite ingredients for adding flavor wherever you need a little vibrant punch. It's great in salad dressings, sauces, and marinades. Despite being called molasses, it's actually not very sweet and has a deep richness to it. The best way I can describe it is like a syrupy, fruity balsamic vinegar.
For full ingredient details, check out the recipe card below.
Stuffed cabbage may seem like a tedious dish to make, but once you get the hang of it, it's quick to assemble.
My Polish Golumpki recipe simplifies the process by first steaming a whole head of cabbage in a bowl of water in the microwave. Most recipes require blanching the cabbage in a large pot of boiling water. But by using the microwave, the leaves are tender in half the time and ready to get filled.
While the cabbage steams, you cook up the rice on the stove as you normally would. While that's going, in a bowl, mix the ground beef, rice, egg, raisins, and spices to form the filling. And in another bowl, stir together the crushed tomatoes, pomegranate molasses, and whole garlic cloves to make up your sauce.
After the cabbage has steamed and cooled for a few minutes, you carefully remove the leaves one by one from the head of the cabbage. You just want to be careful not to tear them as you go, as they are delicate.
Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each leaf and then fold up the bottom and the sides over the filling. Then roll.
Hint: Don't overfill the cabbage. I know, I know. I try it too and guess what? The cabbage tears as you try to roll it. (See the pic below.) A tablespoon of filling may not seem like much, but it's about all a single cabbage leaf can accommodate.
Use as many of the leaves as you can. But when you get to the center, they'll likely be too small to fill.
Coat the bottom of a baking dish with sauce, place your stuffed cabbages in the dish with the seam side down, then cover with more sauce. Bake for 30 minutes then stick it under the broiler for a little browning if you feel like it.
Finally, sprinkle some chopped parsley over top and serve with any remaining sauce.
🍚 Substitutions and Variations
- Red cabbage - if you have red cabbage instead of green, that works too
- Ground turkey - any ground meat will work in this recipe, not just beef
- Rice - you can use any rice (or grain) you like, I chose basmati because it cooks quickly
🧾 Polish Golumpki FAQ
Yes, they can. Prepare the recipe up until the point of baking. Then cover the pan well with layers of plastic wrap and foil. Defrost in the fridge and bake as instructed. Or bake directly from the freezer, adding up to 15 minutes (or more) to the cooking time.
I've made cabbage rolls with several types of cabbage and I think they all work. So it's more a matter of personal preference. However, make sure to use cabbage with large leaves so there's plenty of room for stuffing and rolling.
It's the Polish word for "pigeon," which is what people liked to say the stuffed cabbages resemble.
- I'm going to say it again, don't overfill your cabbage leaves. THEY WILL TEAR. Which isn't a deal breaker, just cover them in sauce and no one will really know. If you have leftover filling, you can always cook it in a pan and enjoy it on top of the remaining cabbage leaves that were too small to fill.
- If you want to save yourself a little time, steam the cabbage and cook the rice up to 3 days in advance.
- Not sure how to cut that core out of the cabbage? Check out this video for a quick demonstration. What you don't want to do is cut the cabbage in half, which is what they will tell you in most other videos when it comes to taking out the core.
Leftover golumpki may be stored tightly covered in the fridge for 3-4 days. Uncooked cabbage rolls may also be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days before cooking, however, it will ultimately depend on the freshness of your ingredients.