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Frugal Food Sunday: Golumpki’s

Since I was so successful making you all hungry with last week’s post about roast chicken I thought it would be fun to keep going with the posts about frugal meals. Sunday’s are usually good days to make these since they are typically pretty low maintenance time wise and the leftovers can be used through the rest of the week as lunches. And since one of my goals for 2012 was to cook more for the family its good for me to get into the habit of making Sunday dinner.

Today’s frugal dinner is one that I grew up with, but didn’t like until I was 20 years old. I still remember cringing when I asked what we were having for dinner and my mom replied Golumpki’s.

In case you aren’t familiar with the term golumpki (also known as golabki, golumpkies, golumpkis or gwumpki) it is the Polish name for stuffed cabbage rolls. I hated cabbage when I was growing up. Whether fresh in cole slaw, cooked in golumpki’s or pickled as in sauerkraut I didn’t want anything to do with the lowly cabbage. I have no idea why, but after turning 20 my taste buds somehow changed and now I love any form of cabbage, even Korean kim chee.

While I recognize this as a Polish dish (likely because of the large number of Polish immigrants in my home town), it is pretty ubiquitous across much of northern Europe. You can find variations of the golumpki in Russia (called golubtsy), Ukraine (called holubtsi), Lithuania (called balandeliai, Germany (called kohlrouladen), Hungary (called toltott kapostza and throughout the Slovak regions under various names. Slavic immigrants to the US often referred to them as halupki.

You can also find variations on the cabbage roll in Sweden and Finland (where it is served with lingonberry jam), in the Middle Eastern countries where it is often served with yogurt and a vinagrette consisting of lemon and olive oil seasoned with mint and garlic or in Asia where the filling consists of tofu, various mushrooms, seafood and other vegetables.

But we are talking today about the Polish golumpki, which is (in my neck of the woods) stuffed with a combination of beef and rice. Other typical fillings in Eastern Europe include minced and seasoned pork, barley, garlic, onions and spices. One thing the Eastern European versions do have in common is the sauce. A rich tomato based sauce is always used for cooking and serving the golumpki. This dish is so popular in these areas that I would be willing to bet that there are as many recipes for it as there are cooks.

As a frugal meal golumpki are great. Cabbage is cheap and you can tailor the amount of beef you use. Don’t have much beef of hand, trying to save money or cut down on your meat consumption? No problem, just add more rice or barley to the mix. I typically use about 3/4 of a cup of cooked rice per pound of ground beef, but you can certainly use more if you like. I have when I was in college and the dish gets just as delicious. You can also add garlic, onions, eggs, mushrooms or pretty much any other vegetable you like.

So how do you (well actually me) make these savory little packets of meaty cabbage goodness? Read on and you will see.

I start by mixing the filling. 1 pound (more or less) ground beef, 3/4 cups white rice, some black pepper and garlic powder to taste. That’s all I use. As I said before you can add more spices and vegetables, but this is the basic golumpki recipe. Mix all the ingredients well by hand and set aside.

I then make the sauce, which after cooking actually thickens quite a bit until it is almost like a gravy. This one is simple too. 1 can of Campbell’s tomato soup and roughly 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock mixed together. That’s it. You can also used canned chicken stock if you like, but homemade is cheaper and it tastes better. Leave me a comment below if you want my recipe for chicken (or beef, veal or seafood) stock.

Then we get started with the cabbage. You want to use a large head of cabbage. Please note that the recipe I am giving you is for 1 head of cabbage. It should be enough to feed 3-4 people. You can double, triple or quadruple the recipe if you like for more people or to make enough to freeze.

Place the cabbage in a microwave oven for 4 minutes on high. After the 4 minutes is up CAREFULLY take the head of cabbage out. It will be HOT! Use hot pads or whatever is necessary so you don’t burn yourself. The microwave cooking should have softened the outer leaves enough that you can carefully peel them off without tearing them. Peel the leaves one by one until you get to the point where you can no longer easily peel them off without tearing them.

At this point put the cabbage back in the microwave and cook for an additional 2 minutes. While the head is cooking you can prepare the leaves you’ve already removed for wrapping. I generally remove about 1-2 inches of the stem to make the leaves easier to roll. You do this by taking a sharp knife and cutting around the stem in a “V” shape. Once you are done with the first set of leaves the cabbage should be ready for another round. Continue removing and de-stemming leaves until the leaves become too small to be usable (usually around the time they become smaller than your hand. Each time the leaves become too difficult to remove without tearing put the cabbage back into the microwave for another 90 seconds to 2 minutes.

Now that you have all your leaves ready to be stuffed you want to prepare a large pot by placing a 1/4 inch layer of the tomato soup/stock mixture on the bottom. Cabbage rolls can also be baked, but I prefer to cook mine in a pot as the sauce becomes thicker this way.

Fill each leaf with a small amount of meat. I like to use something around the size of an elongated golf ball, but it really depends on the size of the leaf and your personal preference. Remember though, the larger the meatballs the longer you will have to cook the golumpki’s. Once you put the meat on the leaf simply roll the leaf around it, like rolling a cigar. You only need to roll enough to enclose the meat and you can then trim any excess from the front and fold the two sides under to make a small packet. Place the completed roll into the pot and continue until you’ve used all your meat and cabbage leaves.

Pour the rest of the liquid over top of the cabbage rolls and place the pot on the stove over medium high heat. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and continue to simmer for 2-3 hours. Remember that bigger golumpki’s will mean a longer cooking time. Serve with rice, mashed potatoes or just a loaf of crusty bread for sopping up the gravy!

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