Sunday, January 24, 2010

Nobody is safe: Kate deconstructs Emerils golabki

My grandmother on my father's side used to make a Polish feast for Xmas Eve. I lack her recipes for mushroom soup, borscht, pierogie and golumpki. I also lack the golumpki recipe from my Lithuanian nana on the other side of the family, so I've never made it until now.

When my sweetie and I lived in Norwalk, CT, we were very close to a Polish Deli (that is the name of the place, too). This deli has a hot buffet that's dirt cheap, so we were there at least once a week, feeding my sweetie's addition to golumpki/golabki or stuffed cabbage rolls. He asked me to try and make them and found me the following recipe:

I was taught, growing up, to follow a recipe exactly the first time, then change whatever I wish in future incarnations.  It's not bad advice, but as I've gotten older, I've learned to trust my instincts in the kitchen and made several modifications, as you'll see below:

One small white head of cabbage get a bigger cabbage, bigger cabbage, bigger leaves for wrapping. Trust me.

2 tablespoons butter this can probably be cut in half or eliminated, depending on how much fat is in your meat. It does add a nice flavor, but those of us watching our cholesterol might find this good to cut or substitute your preferred spread, or olive oil

half pound ground chuck

half pound ground pork.  The Polish Deli uses half pork and half veal for a lighter flavor, so that's what I used. I ended up having to ask the butcher at Stop & Shop to grind the veal for me. He gave me a funny look, but I'm used to that.

freshly ground black pepper you can buy peppercorn grinders any place that sells spices these days. No excuse not to have one.

1 cup chopped onions an onion about the size of a softball will yield a little more than a cup. If you prefer sizes without the sports analogies, about the size of a small grapefruit.

2 cups cooked, long-grain rice

1 tsp finely chopped parsely leaves. I took one look at this and said, "We've got to have more parsely, so I tripled it to 1 tbsp. It still wasn't enough.

1 egg for binding

1/4 cup water for steaming the cabbage while in the oven

1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes  I used canned; call me a slacker.

1 teaspoon chopped garlic  I think I added about four cloves. I belong to the club that believes there's no such thing as too much garlic and I felt a teaspoon was far too little.

Pinch of sugar this makes for a nice sweet/sour contrast in the sauce. I don't know that sucralose or stevia would make an appropriate substitute, if you try it let me know!

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

I followed Emeril's instructions for cabbage-wrangling and wish I hadn't. First, he wants you to cut the leaves of a small cabbage in half, then expects you to get eight usable leaves after cooking for twenty minutes. This is not a New England boiled dinner, cabbage does not have to be cooked that long. Instead of nice uniform cabbage rolls, I ended up with some vague balls, which I wrapped in scraps of utterly floppy cabbage. It was worse than dealing with filo dough--like wet tissue paper. The Polish Deli has nice tight rolls. Nana's golumbki looked like little cabbages. Ah well, at least I have something to aspire to.

Next time I try to make golumpki, I will:
a)peel the cabbage leaves off
b)blanch them in boiling water for about five minutes
c)make coleslaw with the leftovers.

I'm also not going to brown the meat, even with the added fat of the butter my meat/egg/rice mixture was very crumbly. This will allow me to cut down on the butter used as well.  I figure to just brown the onions and some garlic (I had to add the garlic), then combine with the rice and raw meat.

Because of the meat going into the oven raw, I figure to cook the golumpki about fifteen minutes longer at a slightly lower heat to ensure the meat is cooked through, adding more water to steam the cabbage leaves further

drain a 22 oz the can of tomatoes thoroughly and use the whole thing for the sauce.

6)double the thyme in the sauce to keep up with the tomatoes. I love thyme and it works really well with the other flavors in the recipe.

Despite the problems, this went over well with the housemate, who pointed out to me that presentation didn't count for much in this house. My sweetie and I both enjoyed it, but I spent most of the evening figuring out how to make it better.

Have a cabbage-wrangling story? Want a recipe deconstructed? Let me know!

Next week: chicken vindaloo!


  1. 8 usable leaves? Really, Emeril? You'd need a larger cabbage. Cabbages are delicious though.

  2. I think you'd be better off peeling a few outer leaves and blanching them. When they are limp enough that you don't have to worry about breaking them, take them out and put them on a paper towel to drain.

    Stuff to your heart's content once they are cool enough to handle.