By Ernest Barteldes
It had always been sort of a personal quest – and a challenge – to make golapki, or Polish-style stuffed cabbage. The first obstacle was the fact that I did not own a Dutch oven, which is basically a very large pot – the pans I had at home were big enough to make a pot roast (not that I would make one in the first place) but just not right for that dish.
Earlier this summer, I walked into a discount store close to work and they were having a sale of kitchen equipment and that included – you guessed it – Dutch ovens. I immediately picked one up and texted Renata about it. But we would have to wait a few months, since it was the beginning of summer and the last thing you want to do during that time is to boil cabbage and remove its leaves one by one. This is after all comfort food, and the last thing you want to be is uncomfortable while preparing it. So we waited until it cooled down a little, and late September there was a bit of a cold snap that made it possible to actually go ahead give it a try.
Now when it comes to cooking dishes for the first time, I prefer not to interact with people too much because I get edgy with people telling me what to do (the same goes when I’m driving, so mind your own business and let me go around in circles). A friend of ours had originally offered to come in all the way from Queens to help with the first “ production,” but being hard-headed as I am (apologies to the friend) I preferred to go mostly on my own with some assistance from Renata.
I researched long and hard on how to make golapki. I settled with two different recipes – one I’d had from a collection called “Grandma’s Kitchen” and another from a blog by an Eastern European enthusiast. I also added my own flavor to it by adding not simply a sauce made from the cooking juices and sour cream but one of my favorites – vodka sauce. I also used ground turkey instead of beef or pork, because both Renata and I prefer it that way.
The result was so satisfactory that I repeated it the following weekend, allowing the cabbage leaves to cook a little longer to add a little more tenderness to the bite. It was quite an experience, but it kept me wondering: what if I could find a meatless version of that dish? As regular readers are aware of, I often like to “go veggie” at dinner, especially when we have been eating fowl or seafood a lot.
A little bit of browsing led me to the mother lode – A Serbian recipe called “Posna Sarna” that replaces meat for carrots, tomatoes, garlic and celery. According to the info on the site, these are prepared during the period of Orthodox Serbian Lent and Advent, when meat and dairy is strictly prohibited.
I prepared it last weekend and it was pretty awesome. I would not include the sauerkraut because it caused the sauce to become a bit too sour to our tastes – and next time I guess I will return to vodka sauce instead of tomato.
Anyway, here is the recipe
• 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
• 2 onions, finely chopped
• 3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
• 1 rib celery, finely chopped
• 3 Cubanelle or sweet peppers, finely chopped
• 2 cups cooked long-grain rice
• 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
• Salt and black pepper to taste
• 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1 (3- to 4-pound) head cabbage
• 1 (32-ounce) jar sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
• 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
• 1 (10-3/4-ounce) can tomato soup
• Prep Time: 20 minutes
• Cook Time: 60 minutes
• Total Time: 80 minutes
Heat oil in large skillet. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add celery, carrots, peppers and cook for 5 minutes. Add rice, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool and mix in garlic. Meanwhile, steam cabbage until leaves are limp and pull away easily. Continue to remove as many leaves as possible. With a paring knife, remove tough ribs from leaves without damaging leaves. Reserve tougher outer leaves but don’t use for rolling. Heap 2 tablespoons vegetable filling on each leaf, fold top of the cabbage leaf up over filling, then fold sides to the center, and roll away from you to encase completely. Repeat until filling is gone. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Discard the cabbage core and coarsely chop any remaining cabbage except the tough outer leaves you have reserved. Spread chopped cabbage on the bottom of a large casserole dish or Dutch oven. Add the sauerkraut. Layer on the cabbage rolls, seam side down. Cover rolls with reserved outer leaves. Mix tomato sauce and soup with enough water to make a liquid consistency. Pour over rolls until mixture is level with rolls but not over the top. Cover casserole dish and bake 1 hour. Let sit 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Freezes well.