Like many traditional ethnic dishes, Polish stuffed cabbage rolls are made with simple ingredients. It’s the explicit way they are assembled and cooked, and the care that goes into making them that hold meaning for families who prepare and enjoy them. For this dish, says contributor Maria Vakulskas Rosmann, “Ground beef is mixed with uncooked rice, wrapped in softened cabbage leaves, and placed in a roaster with home canned tomatoes. It's my heritage--my grandparents were born in Poland—and a fun dish to make that utilizes garden produce.”
“I don’t make galumpki with a recipe in hand,” says Maria, yet she can recall in detail how her mother used to do it, from how her mom would sometimes top the cabbage rolls with peeled potatoes before baking them, right down to the oval blue roasting pan she cooked them in.
“The juices from the tomatoes and the juices from the meat form a kind of moist gravy [that is] part of the meal,” says Maria. She serves it with green beans—or whatever home-canned vegetable she has in supply—and rye bread.
Maria and her husband Ron Rosmann own a 600-acre certified organic farm in southwest Iowa, where they grow corn, oats, soybeans, barley, hay, and popcorn. They also raise beef and pork for Organic Prairie as well as their own private label, and have broiler chickens.
1. Add water to a large pot or deep pan, to a depth of two of more inches and bring to boil. Meanwhile, mix beef, rice, onions, and salt and pepper to taste. Form the mixture into rounded shapes that are about the size of a kiwi, 15-20 total. Set aside.
2. Use a sturdy, small knife to cut out the center core of the cabbage. Place whole cabbage core side down in the boiling water. Turn it occasionally in the boiling water to allow the leaves to soften. Using tongs or your fingers, carefully peel softened leaves off the cabbage (you can transfer the head to a colander and run water over it to cool it a bit first, if desired). After the outer leaves have been peeled off, return cabbage head to the pan to continue softening the inner leaves. Peel off as many leaves of the cabbage as you have meat balls.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or oil a deep 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish, or a large roasting pan. Use a sharp knife to trim off part of the thicker, rounded portion of the rib on each cabbage leave—this will help them fold up better. For each roll, place a meatball on the inside of the leaf, fold the bottom of the leaf over the meat, fold the sides over that, and then roll the whole thing up. Place the rolls in the baking dish or pan in a single layer, seam side down.
4. Cut the remaining cabbage into chunks about the same size as the meatballs, and place them over and around the rolls. Arrange the tomatoes (you can cut them in half if they’re large), over the rolls and pour the tomato liquid over all. The liquid should come about one-quarter way up the sides of the rolls; if not, add tomato juice as needed. If you’ve used unsalted tomatoes and juice, add salt and pepper to taste at this point.
5. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil or a lid and bake until rice in the meatballs is fully cooked, 1 to 2 hours. You can check for doneness by slicing into one of the rolls. Serve hot from the oven.
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Maria Vakulskas Rosmann uses home-canned tomatoes and--of course--the farm’s own good beef in her galumpki. Customarily, there is no seasoning beyond salt and pepper in the dish, she says. “I don’t use salt when canning my own tomatoes, so I season the meat for this dish. If I use tomatoes from the store, I back off on the salt.” Once in awhile she makes it seasoning salt; when asked about other herbs, she says, “Italian seasoning or dill would be okay, too. I’d like dill right in the meatballs.”
A typical batch for her family is double the recipe above: “It will serve a lot, if you [figure] two to three cabbage rolls per serving. It freezes well and is good for warming-up.”