My Polish Kitchen: Gołabki, Cabbage Rolls
It is hard for me to describe Polish hospitality without having you experience it firsthand. I mean, I am American, and I tend to believe we have some of the best hospitality in the world. When you go to a restaurant, every want and request, from a side salad to no gluten, generally is fulfilled. If you travel around the US you will hear “Yes, Ma’am, No Ma’am” and in a southern kitchen you will never go hungry where fried chicken or shrimp and grits abound. In my neck of the woods, American comfort like meatloaf and scalloped potatoes grace the table. Well, if you can imagine all this, multiply it by three. When I flew into Gdansk to spend two and a half weeks immersed in Polish language study, my flight was delayed. I arrived at 1:00 am. My father-in-law was there to receive me. In my broken Polish I called from the tarmac and he was there at the arrivals gate when I appeared. I have been to Poland on numerous occasions, even before I met and married my husband. So, it wasn’t a surprise that when we pulled into my in-laws driveway that my mother-in-law, Teresa was still awake, ready and waiting with a table spread with homemade food. It was 1:30 AM! I indulged in soup and salad and the most decadent strawberry, rhubarb tart. Though she would have loved to have filled me with so many other delicacies, I had ate my fill.
What I am getting at here, is I feel at home in my adopted country, well, one of my adopted countries, because at this point, I have many. From Belgium, Spain and now Poland, I have acquired many places that feel like home, but nowhere else, outside my motherland, do I eat so well and feel so welcome than Poland! I was at a family BBQ the other evening before Poland was scheduled to play Portugal in the European Football Cup. One of my husband’s cousins asked about Polish hospitality. Though my in-laws and I communicate in Polish, well, broken Polish and Google translate, many of my relatives speak English. I told him, every culture is quite different. I have traveled all over Europe. It would be easier to count the countries I have not visited than to tell you the one’s I have. I think I am quite learned and with a food & beverage background I am quite keen on what good hospitality looks like. With that said, my answer reflected my experiences, that outside of Hungary, England, and parts of Italy, I believe the hospitality in Poland is topnotch, very similar to that of the US.
Now to get to the main point of this writing. The food!! Yes, I am hungry and hope you are too! Okay, hospitality makes you feel all warm and happy inside, but it is really the food that I want to focus on here. Whenever my husband and I visit his parents, there is always a fridge full of stocked goodies, from homemade pate to smoked duck, cabbage, salads, and of course dessert, because both my mother-in-law and I have a tremendous sweet tooth.
Although, I am well versed in the kitchen, I am now fascinated with learning the craft of the Polish kitchen, and I will leave that to the experts to teach me their craft. Below, is one of my favorite dishes called Gołabki, the word itself means Dove. These are cabbage rolls filled with pork, rice and herbs, baked and served with a sauce of tomato and a touch of cream. To say the least, they are quite simple to prepare. Though the first time you may have to go slow, the ingredients are easy to come by and the dish is quite filling. It is a comfort food, and one of the most popular items on the table.
From my Polish kitchen, “Smacznego” which means enjoy, Bon Appetit!
1 Cabbage Head
2-3 tsp Salt
Prepare the cabbage by running a knife around the center core Do not remove the core, but loosen the leaves. Place the cabbage head in a large sauce pan and fill with water to cover. Season the water with 2-3 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a rolling boil. When the leaves begin to fall away from the core use a fork to remove them entirely. Make sure the cabbage is tender before removing. In a colander shock the cabbage to stop cooking by running cold water over the leaves.
1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds Ground Pork
1 cup White Rice, under-cooked (the rice is still slightly hard)
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
¼ tsp Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Dried Marjoram
¼ cup Fresh Dill, chopped
¼ cup Fresh Parsley, chopped
2 cups Tomato Sauce
1 can Crushed Tomatoes
¼ cup Heavy Cream
Pinch Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 400˚F or 205˚C.
In a large baking pan layer leaves of cabbage to cover the bottom. This is used to flavor the sauce and protect the cabbage rolls from sticking to the bottom. Using a large tablespoon scoop about 1/3 cup filling into each individual cabbage leaf. The leaves should be large enough to roll, folding the sides into cover the filling and rolling like a burrito. Place the cabbage rolls tightly into the baking dish, side by side, leaving little room to unroll.
When the cabbage rolls are filled. Top with tomato sauce. Place more lettuce leaves over the top of the sauce to protect the rolls and again to add flavor to the sauce. Bake for 1 hour.
In a small sauce pan over medium heat bring the crushed tomatoes and cream to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside for service.
Remove the cabbage rolls from the oven. To serve, ladle the sauce over top the rolls and sprinkle with fresh herbs.