Saturday, August 22, 2015

Exploring Polish Cuisine- Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Cucumber Salad

Exploring different types of cuisine is something we really enjoy here at The Little Lake House. It's virtually impossible to get stuck in a rut when you are constantly exploring new lands, unique food stores and reading ethnic cookbooks for ideas. Polish food is generally not something that comes to mind when you talk about a "cuisine." In fact, I'd be willing to bet not many people could even name a traditional Polish dish, and for far too many that think they know Polish food- it's frozen premade pierogies. That's sad to me!

Having a mother who was born and raised in Germany, I was exposed to so many different styles of cooking during my life. While she was not Polish, she did make some pretty killer cabbage rolls, which is a traditional Polish dish. The thing about Mom's rolls- the filling was the same basic mixture as her meatloaf and meatballs with a little rice added, and I've said it before- she was no Julia Child and she did the unthinkable- made the sauce from canned tomato soup. When I decided to reinvent Mom's cabbage roll recipe I knew I'd be skipping that horrific ingredient!

In order to get a beautiful, perfect little cabbage package you need a nice, firm, smooth and heavy head of cabbage. Look for a bright green head that weighs about three pounds and you'll end up with 12-20 rolls. I was shooting for 12 rolls so I'd have plenty to freeze for later too. Prepping the cabbage is super easy. Use a sharp knife to cut out the core (or as much as you can) and remove the outer leaf or two if they are beat up. 

Get a big stockpot of water boiling, and go ahead and salt that water too. Carefully place the cabbage head (yep, the whole thing) in the pot, cover it, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully again, remove the whole head and place it on a rimmed baking sheet until cool enough to handle. Save that water and keep it simmering- you might find some of the inner leaves are still too crunchy and you might need to simmer the cabbage a little bit more. Plus, you will need a little water for later. Carefully peel off the leaves and set aside. Sounds easy right? Lets make some cabbage rolls!

Polish Cabbage Rolls (Golabki)

3 lb head of cabbage
1 lb hamburger (get the lean grind for this recipe)
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped carrot
olive oil
3/4 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Italian seasoning, if desired
3 cups tomato sauce, divided  (1/2 cup in the meat, the rest as sauce)
1/2 cup water

Finely dice the onion and garlic. Chop the carrots into small dice. In a large skillet heat a couple tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and carrots and saute over medium heat until onions begin to caramelize. Add the garlic. Continue cooking until the garlic softens but does not brown. Remove from heat and set aside to  cool.

Prep the cabbage as above. I'm shooting for 12 rolls so I am going to peel off leaves until I have enough. Now sometimes I get most of them peeled off and they are still too crunchy to roll- so pop them back in the pot of water for a few minutes. We have to deal with that hard rib, so grab a paring knife or vegetable peeler and shave it off. You don't want to cut through the leaf, we want to keep it whole. Set the leaves aside.

Save the rib shavings- you can chop them up and toss
in the meat filling too- no waste!
In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, the sauteed vegetables. rice, salt and pepper, the parsley and one cup of the tomato sauce. Get in there with your hands and mix that up like meatballs- and then divide it up into enough portions for all the leaves you have. Then, roll em up!

To roll them, place the bottom of the leaf closest to you. Put the filling on the leaf, then fold the bottom over the filling, fold the sides in, then roll up. Place the rolls seam side down in a large baking pan. They will hold together well and you won't need toothpicks or anything like that. 

Sprinkle the rolls with Italian seasoning if you're using. Combine the remaining tomato sauce with 1/2 cup of the cabbage water and pour over the rolls in the pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until cooked through.

Typically in Poland the rolls are allowed to cool after baking, then covered and chilled- to serve brown in olive oil and serve with sour cream. You can also serve them straight from the oven with a little tomato sauce spooned over if you like.

Some potatoes with parsley and butter were perfect
with the cabbage rolls.
Now the typical Polish farm wife might serve these rolls with a side of tluczone ziemniaki (mashed potatoes) and falsolka z migdalami (green beans sprinkled with buttered and toasted bread crumbs and sliced olives) or maybe a cold cucumber salad. Sounds like a perfectly delicious and homey meal to me. Let's eat!

Frozen scoops of tomato paste- pop in the microwave
with water and you have tomato sauce in minutes.
Helpful hint-  I buy tomato paste in bulk- the big #10 cans, scoop it out onto waxed paper in 1/2 cup portions and freeze. When solid, I bag them up and store. It's easy to pull out a couple portions and thaw in water to make the sauce I need for this recipe- I used 2 scoops of paste and 3 cups of water (my rolls are a little saucy). This way I always have tomato sauce pretty much at my fingertips for very little money.

Want to have some fun with food? Let's make a quick cucumber salad to go with the rolls- and we're going to use a fun tool- a spiralizer. I have had a lot of fun playing with this thing and decided this would be a great night to break it out. They come in all price ranges from an inexpensive hand held one (like mine) to a $$$$ automatic thing I just don't need. It's not something I think to use very often, it's just fun. So for our salad I have two medium cucumbers. Gotta love farmers market day! There were literally picked an hour before I bought them. I used the spiralizer to cut long strands of cucumber- kind of like noodles, and then used a knife to cut through the pile of strands to make bite size pieces.

Into the salad bowl they go along with some slivered red onion. I had a few sprigs of herbs leftover from the night before so I added some thyme leaves and a handful of chopped parsley, some salt and freshly ground black pepper and gave it a toss.

A little vinegar and oil- simple and classic, like our European style meal, and it's ready to serve.

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