By Ernest Barteldes
A former co-worker once told me that he followed Martha Stewart’s advice that “food that takes more than 15 minutes to prepare is a waste of time.” I have not found anything to corroborate that claim (the only quote I ever saw was “when time is of the essence” on a piece on quick cooking). If that is true, however, Ms. Stewart has clearly never attempted Polish cuisine.
As someone who did not grow up with this kind of food, I’d say that most dishes from Poland are ultimate examples of comfort food. Most take few seasonings beyond salt, pepper, onion, garlic and allspice. They are also very filling and satisfying, but the fact is that most – with few exceptions I can think of – are very time-consuming from start to finish. An example of that is bigos, a stew made with cabbage and sausages that needs to boil for several hours – whenever I make that dish, I always make it a day early so the flavors can properly develop, and always serve with a side of potatoes (usually mashed, as Renata likes them best).
Another dish I have learned to make is golabki (go-WAMP-ki), which is basically cabbage stuffed with meat and rice. I only attempt that one about three or times a year and only when the weather is cold, because it just takes way too much time from start to finish. It is, however, Renata’s favorite Polish dish, and I cannot resist her smile when I present the prepared “pigeons” (which is what they mean) during dinner.
I also take a few liberties with the recipe: instead of ground beef or pork, I prefer to use ground turkey, and for the sauce that goes over the portions I go with vodka sauce instead of more traditional tomato or sour cream-based sauces. Why vodka? I really cannot say, but I feel that the dish works fine and matches fine with the whole thing – including the potatoes.
My Take on Golapki
1 large cabbage
2 cups cooked long-grain rice
2-3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 lb. lean ground turkey
Salt and pepper to taste.
1 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes in juice
¾ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup vodka
Fresh chopped basil to taste
Instructions: With a sharp knife, cut as much of the cabbage’s core off, and reserve the pieces. Remove the outer leaves and boil the cabbage in salted water. As the leaves begin to dislodge, carefully remove them using tongs until you have about 10-12 leaves. Drain the water, chop up the rest of the cabbage and reserve. Mix the ground turkey with the rice well and season with salt and black pepper. Using your hands, form medium meatballs and wrap each one in a leaf, burrito style. Put the remaining cabbage pieces in the bottom of the pan and layer the stuffed cabbage leaves over the pieces. Once all the golapki are in the pan, add the broth and simmer for about 1 hour. Serve with sauce and potatoes.
To make the vodka sauce:
In a saucepan, bring vodka to a gentle boil until reduced to about half (careful with the fumes: they are almost pure alcohol, once I breathed into them and felt a little light-headed). Add the tomatoes and cream and bring to a gentle boil. Add the basil, stir and keep warm until ready to serve.