July 13, 2018 – “Ah, kapucha,” my friend Rich Listowski exclaimed enthusiastically when I told him I was making stuffed cabbage for dinner. Cabbage. A vegetable dear to generations of his Polish ancestors.
As our conversation continued, I learned that stuffed cabbage is gotabki, pronounced “gaw-WOHMP-kee.” Translated literally, it means “little pigeons.” Looking at the small bundles of deliciousness awaiting their baptismal dunking, it’s easy to see how they came to be so named. It was as pretty a sight as I’ve ever seen on a stove.
The food of Poland is as fascinating as is the nation itself. In centuries past, Poland was a major power, with several cultures falling under its dominance. Its food from those years developed with Latvian, Turkish, and Hungarian influences among others.
Later centuries brought invasion from other powerful nations. The Poles were no pushovers. Their cavalry was the finest in the world, respected and feared by their enemies. The elite were the Winged Hussars, who rode into battle with a pair of wings on their backs. There is debate as to the purpose of the wings. I’ve always liked the version that the wings made a weird, supernatural noise that could be heard before the cavalry came into sight, striking panic in many of the opposing forces.
Military history aside, the point is that Polish food developed from a variety of cultures. The Poles, however, made each new element their own, preparing and presenting it in their uniquely wonderful fashion.
After emerging into the light of freedom after decades of dark domination, first by Nazis and then communists, Poland has earned the world’s respect and again become prominent in the community of nations. I decided it was time to try my hand at Polish food. Summoning my culinary courage, I launched into the delicate construction of gotabki.
I used only ten leaves from a head of cabbage because that’s what I needed for the amount of ground meat I had. The leaves should be large and handled gently so as not to tear.
I also added a couple of spices that probably wouldn’t be included in a true Polish version. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
With apologies to my pal, Rich Listowski, and his Polish ancestors, here’s my take on gotabki.
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
10 large cabbage leaves
1 pound ground beef
1 cup cooked rice
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon allspice
salt & pepper to taste
1 onion, quartered
1 rib celery, sliced into medium chunks
1 1/2 cup stock
6 ounces tomato paste
Bring a pot of water, seasoned with nutmeg and salt to taste, to a boil.
Place the cabbage leaves in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let them soak for about 15 minutes.
While the cabbage leaves are soaking, combine the ground beef, rice, minced onion, eggs, garlic, and allspice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well.
Remove the cabbage leaves from the water, handling very carefully so as not to tear them.
Lightly oil a heavy pan with a tightly fitting lid.
Layer the quartered onion and celery chunks in the pan to create a bed for the cabbage rolls.
Place a portion of the meat mixture into each leaf. Carefully roll the leaf and tuck the ends under. Lay the cabbage rolls on the vegetable bed.
Swirl the tomato paste into the stock and pour the liquid over the cabbage rolls.
Cover and simmer over low heat for one hour.
Or more properly in this case, dobre czasy!