A dish with three names may presume you to think of complicated steps or ingredients that cannot be pronounced, but that is not the case here. Instead, this dish with many names comes from my childhood and it is not very complicated at all.
Growing up, they were called Pigs in a Blanket. Enjoyed anytime between Christmas and New Year’s, Grandma Beal would make pigs in a blanket for us to enjoy as that good luck, beginning of the year food. I cannot say I appreciated them as a child as much as I do now – does any child really enjoy cabbage? Really? I remember gently unrolling the cabbage from the stuffing, made of ground beef, pork (hence the pig part) and rice, the real prize is the pig and less the blanket. Then I grabbed a bottle of ketchup and squirted it all over the place. To this day, I still love ketchup more than I’d like to share.
We called them pigs in a blanket, many others called them cabbage rolls, but their most authentic name is Golabki (gaw-WOHMP-kee), or more commonly pronounced Golumpki in the US. These Polish delights are traditionally made by wrapping slightly cooked cabbage leaves around a mixture of rice or barley, minced meat (usually beef or pork), seasoned with onions and held together with eggs. The rolls are tucked into a baking dish and covered with a tomato sauce where they are baked until warm and then served. (This is the part where I unrolled them, sloshed on the ketchup and dug in).
Each Eastern European region has their own variety of stuffed cabbage rolls. Who knew it was such a popular dish? But if you think of cabbage as a cheap, accessible produce item along with ground beef, which was surely mixed with rice, barley or another grain to stretch how far the meat would go, the dish is quite honest and forgiving. A quick look at this list of Eastern European stuffed cabbage rolls just brushes the surface of recipes that have been written down and shared.
When I finally asked my grandma for her recipe, I learned the jist of what I needed to know to make her pigs in a blanket. In my first attempt to make them, I tried to follow her steps exactly. Grandma used straight up lard as a binder for the beef and rice. I always remembered her rolls being soft and juicy, but mine turned out stiff, dry and flavorless. It was at least a year before I decided to try my hand at making them again.
This time, I made a few changes. I had a hankering for corned beef and when I spotted it at the grocery store, I knew I must enjoy it while it is available. Corned beef was a likely alternative to traditional Polish Golumpki. Beef would often be corned to prevent it from spoiling too quickly in the occasion that it was acquired but not eaten right away. Personally I find the taste to be much more favorable than plain beef.
What I am most surprised of is my ability to taste and desire tomato sauce, a real tomato sauce, for these rolls. I’ll never give up my first love – ketchup – but tomato sauce mixed with the cooking liquid from the corned beef did make for quite the colorful, savory sauce to accompany the rolls.
I hope you enjoy these rolls as you prepare them for your family. At least you can acknowledge two uses for the phrase “pigs in a blanket,” one not being hot dogs in crescent rolls!
GRANDMA’S PIGS IN A BLANKET, AMERICA’S CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE ROLLS, AND POLAND’S GOLUMPKI
- 3 pound corned beef brisket
- 10 cups water
- 6 cloves
- 6 juniper berries
- 6 allspice cloves
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- 16 Savoy cabbage leaves
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 large eggs
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- Place the corned beef in a slow cooker and add 10 cups of water with the cloves, juniper berries, cloves, coriander seeds and bay leaves. Set the timer on low for 8 hours.
- When you are ready to make the rolls, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
- Prepare the cabbage leaves by gently peeling the leaves off. Lay the leaf flat on a cutting board with the thick stalk upward. Using a sharp knife, shave off as much of the thick stalk as you can without puncturing the leaf. This will allow the leaf to lie flat for stuffing and rolling. Boil the leaves for 2 minutes each to soften.
- Chop the corned beef roughly. In a large bowl, combine it with the cooked rice, parsley, eggs, and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Stir together until the eggs are mixed well.
- Gently take the softened cabbage leaf and lay it flat with the stalk side down. Take a handful of the corned beef mix and lightly place it 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the leaf. Roll the bottom of the leaf up, then fold in the sides.
- Continue to roll the leaf together ensuring the stuffing stays stuffed inside. Place the roll with the seam side down in a large 9 x 13 baking dish. Repeat this process for each roll.
- Warm 1 cup of tomato sauce with 1 cup of strained cooking liquid from the corned beef in a small pot. Ladle half of the liquid over the rolls. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Plate and serve with the additional cooking liquid if you like.