How to make Golabki (cabbage rolls)

Grzegorz (Greg) Peckowski, from Poland, shows how to make golabki (cabbage rolls).

Greg Peckowski came to New Zealand 11 years ago after working in hotels in Israel and Lebanon.

The Polish chef and his wife had come for a holiday, liked the country and the flavour of the meat, and stayed, he said with a laugh.

He was executive chef at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, but after the earthquakes moved to Dunedin to become executive chef at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

He has a soft spot for golabki, or cabbage rolls, not only because he watched his mother and grandmother cook them for Sunday dinner when he was a child, but at the age of 16 when he was a professional football player, he decided to take up cooking as a hobby and this was the first dish he cooked.

This is a one-pot meal, containing meat, a starch and vegetables.

Photo by Christine O'COnnor
Photo by Christine O'COnnor


Golabki (cabbage rolls)
Feeds 6-7 (makes 14-16 rolls)

1 whole head of cabbage

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tsp butter or vegetable oil or a mix

600g beef mince

1 1/2 cups rice

1 clove crushed garlic

1 tsp salt

1 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp tomato paste

For tomato stock
4 cups water

2 tsp tomato paste

For the sauce
1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2 tsp flour

Put a large pot of salted water on to heat. It needs to be big enough to fit the whole cabbage so the leaves can soften.

Using a small knife, carefully cut out the thick core of the cabbage by working the knife around the stem and twisting it out.

Put the whole cabbage in the pot of simmering water for 5-6 minutes to allow the leaves to soften so they are flexible and can be pulled off easily.

If the water does not completely cover the cabbage, turn it carefully once or twice so all the cabbage is blanched.

Carefully lift out the cabbage with a large fork and spoon.

It will be full of boiling water so allow it to drain. Put it in a large bowl and lift off the outer leaves until you come to leaves that are still hard.

Return the cabbage to the simmering water to soften further, then remove another few layers of leaves.

Cook the rice in water but don't overcook it. You don't want the grains to break up when you mix them with the rest of the filling. Leave to cool.

Heat the butter and/or oil in a pan and add the finely chopped onion, thyme leaves, and a clove of garlic crushed with salt. Stir occasionally and cook until the onion is golden. Leave to cool.

To make tomato stock
Add two teaspoons of tomato paste to 4 cups of simmering water, a few more thyme leaves, a couple of pinches of sugar, salt and plenty of pepper.

Whisk together and simmer for a few minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.

To make the filling
Mix cooked rice, minced beef and the onion mixture. There's an old wives' tale that if you mix it too much the meat will be tough, but Greg is more concerned about not breaking the rice grains. Season well.

Grease the sides of an oven-proof baking dish or Dutch oven. Roughly chop a couple of cabbage leaves and place in the bottom of the dish along with any other cabbage trimmings.

To assemble the cabbage rolls
Take a cabbage leaf and slice a piece off the thick part of the middle rib and add to the baking dish.

Spread the leaf on a board and place a handful of the mince and rice filling at the base of the leaf, fold over the lower end, then fold the sides in and roll up.

Alternatively, fold the sides of the leaf in first, then roll up from the bottom.

Don't worry about any small holes in the leaves as the filling will not fall out.

Place the cabbage rolls in the baking dish with the seam side down or against another roll, fitting them together tightly.

You can stack the rolls if you are feeding a crowd.

Pour the tomato stock over the rolls. It should come half to three-quarters of the way up the rolls.

Place a couple more cabbage leaves over the top, then a piece of baking paper and cover tightly with a lid or tinfoil.

Cook in an oven preheated to 160degC for 80-90 minutes.

To make the sauce
Mix the sour cream with a little flour and whisk into the remaining hot tomato stock (make some more stock if needed).

The flour will prevent the sour cream splitting. Simmer briefly. If the sauce is the right consistency, it will coat the back of a spoon dipped into it, and drip off slowly.

When the cabbage rolls are cooked, they will have changed colour and the filling will be firm.

To serve
Place a roll or two on a plate and drizzle thickly with plenty of sauce.


When you are cutting out the cabbage stem, it doesn't matter if you leave a bit on the inside. It can be cut out later as the cabbage softens. Greg prefers to use basmati rice.

In Poland, they use butter for flavour but Greg likes to use a mix of butter and oil, which prevents the butter from burning.

Traditionally a mix of beef and pork, the cheapest meat, is used in Poland but here Greg prefers to use just beef because it is less fatty.

Beef or chicken stock is used in Poland, but Greg prefers to use tomato stock for this dish.

Polish people traditionally didn't waste anything, which is why all the cabbage trimmings go into the bottom of the baking dish for the rolls to rest on.

Greg likes to season all the components well, being especially generous with pepper. Otherwise the dish can be bland, he says.

You can cook the cabbage rolls on the top of the stove, but you will probably need more liquid as it will evaporate more quickly than in the oven.

Cabbage rolls can be frozen before or after cooking.


Thanks to Afife Harris and Centre City New World


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