My grandmother was a first-generation Polish immigrant, and I fondly remember the smells overtaking the entire house when she made stuffed cabbage rolls. Nowadays, at the end of every year, my family and I make a big Polish feast to celebrate the holidays. With two young kids blazing their own trails, it’s important to build traditions and continue to honor our family's heritage.
Cabbage rolls are one of those dishes where you have the latitude to experiment with fillings. I like the wild rice in lieu of regular white rice here, and the fresh dill and smoked paprika round out the bold flavors. Another great addition would be fresh, seasonal wild mushrooms, a staple in Polish cuisine.
I've also heard of these referred to as German pigs in a blanket or Polish golabki. Either way, be sure to serve these with classic accompaniments like mashed potatoes, sausages, pickled vegetables, and cheesy perogies.
- 1 large head green cabbage
- 1 lb. ground venison, raw
- 1 cup wild rice, cooked
- 14 oz. can sauerkraut, strained and chopped
- 1 cup yellow onion, small-diced
- 5-7 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- ¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1½ tsp. coarse salt
- 1 tsp. cracked black pepper
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 28 oz. can crushed tomato
- 2 cups game stock
- 1 medium yellow onion, rough chopped
- 5 large cloves garlic, rough chopped
- ¼ cup vinegar, white wine or apple cider
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
- 1 tsp. chili flake (optional)
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- Take a small knife and cut out the core on the bottom of the cabbage. Cutting out the core will detach the leaves and make removing them as they cook much easier. Remove the outer layer of the cabbage and discard it. Place the cabbage core down in a large pot and add enough cold water until it just begins to float. Add a couple of generous pinches of coarse salt to the water then cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a strong simmer. Every 2 to 3 minutes, remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and place into a bowl. They should be cooked enough that they don’t break when you fold them. Repeat this process, cooking the outer leaves until you have 12 to 15 large cabbage leaves. Set aside to cool.
- Cook the wild rice. Make sure to rinse the wild rice a few times before placing it in a small pot. Cover the rice with about one inch of cold water and lightly season with salt. Bring the rice to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover. Continue cooking until the rice is al dente. Strain and set aside to cool.
- Next, make the tomato sauce. Add the butter, olive oil, onion, and garlic in a medium-sized pot. Cook over medium-high heat until the onion begins to brown on the edges. Add the spices, sugar, and tomato paste and cook for one minute then deglaze with the vinegar. Add the stock and bring it to a boil. Add the crushed tomato and return to a boil. Remove the sauce from the heat, puree until smooth and set aside to cool.
- While everything is cooling, add the butter, onion, and garlic to a sauté pan and cook until the onion is translucent. Set aside to cool and prepare the cabbage leaves. Each cabbage leaf has a hard center vein that has to either be removed or thinned to allow you to roll the leaves without breaking. Cut down the center vein from each cabbage leaf with a small knife.
- Make sure everything is adequately cooled. Take all of the stuffing ingredients and mix them until well combined. Portion the filling into 12 to 14 equal-sized logs (or to the size and amount of rolls you prefer). Take a cabbage leaf and spread it out on a cutting board. Place the filling onto the edge of the leaf and roll it up tightly, making sure to fold in and secure the ends so the filling is completely sealed. Trim any excess cabbage away. Repeat with the remaining cabbage leaves and filling portions.
- In a large baking dish or multiple dishes, if need be, spoon a layer of sauce on the bottom. Now add the cabbage rolls. Don't pack them too tightly since you want them to cook evenly. Pour the remaining sauce over the rolls and cover with tinfoil. Bake in a 350°F oven for up to 90 minutes or until the sauce has slightly reduced and the cabbage is nice and tender.