Cabbage rolls

Cabbage rolls


Borsch, Vodka and Tears
Bonnie Savage

Gołąbki means ‘little pigeons’, though they are made from rice, veal, beef or pork. They are a popular dish throughout Eastern Europe — the main variance between cuisines seems to be in the sauce, which can be stock-based, either plain or flavoured with tomato or sour cream, or based on tomatoes in a sweet and sour sauce. This recipe uses fresh cabbage leaves that are blanched, but you can substitute cabbage leaves that have been salt-cured as sauerkraut. The first time I attempted this recipe at home, I went to the local market and bought a strapping 4 kg cabbage. It was impossible to put into the pot and later to strain without sending a shower of boiling water all over me. It was an experience I wouldn’t recommend.


Quantity Ingredient
4-5 dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 60 ml cold water for 30 minutes
1 teaspoon butter, plus 1 tablespoon extra
1 teaspoon plain flour
375ml beef or veal stock
125ml good-quality italian tomato passata
165g medium-grain rice
1-2kg white cabbage, outer leaves and core removed
1 onion, finely chopped
300g minced beef


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Drain the mushrooms and reserve the soaking liquid. Squeeze the mushrooms of excess liquid, and finely chop. Set aside.
  2. Melt the teaspoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the flour and stir for 2 minutes until it is thoroughly incorporated and bubbling a little bit. Slowly add the stock, a little at a time, and stir until it is well combined and starts to bubble again. When all of the stock has been used, stir in the tomato passata and the reserved porcini soaking liquid. Leave to simmer for a further 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
  3. Bring a medium-sized saucepan and a large saucepan of water to the boil.
  4. Add the rice to the medium pan and stir it in. Bring back to the boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Strain and refresh in cold running water, then drain well.
  5. Put the whole cabbage carefully into the large saucepan of boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Strain carefully (it can splash) and allow to cool for a further 5 minutes. Carefully remove the leaves, being sure not to break them. When you have eight good, unbroken leaves and a couple of spares, put the core of the cabbage away, you can shred it and heat it in butter with caraway seeds later. Using a sharp knife, carefully trim the protruding ribs on the back of each cabbage leaf so that it is flush with the rest of the leaf.
  6. Melt the extra butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it softens. Add to a bowl with the cooked rice, mushroom and beef. Season with salt and pepper and use your hands to mix together very well, squeezing the filling through your fingers.
  7. Divide the filling into eight equal portions and form each into a fat cylinder. Place a cylinder at the bottom of each cabbage leaf, roll it up halfway, then fold in the sides and continue wrapping to make a neat roll.
  8. Place all the rolls in a roasting tin or baking dish so they fit snugly. Pour over the tomato sauce, cover the rolls with the extra cabbage leaves, and cook in the oven for about 1 hour, or until the filling inside them feels firm to the touch.
  9. Check the rolls after 50 minutes — you may need to place a sheet of foil over the rolls to prevent them from burning during cooking. Serve the rolls with the sauce.
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