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Tom's Cookbook Library: Polish-style cabbage rolls a classic dish

“Polish Classic Recipes” (Pelican Publishing) is a wee book, not quite a hundred pages. But Peter and Laura Zeranski, the husband-and-wife team that authored it, waste no time in sharing recipes that capture the essence of what makes this cuisine so special.

They present widely recognized – and some lesser known – appetizers, soups, entrees and pastries. An entire chapter is devoted to the art of preparing pierogi, those addictive filled Polish dumplings.

Clear directions and beautiful photos abound. Marinated beet salad, dill pickle soup, veal stew with dill, plum cake and baba with raisins are all represented.

Unquestionably, Cabbage Rolls, which Peter Zeranski includes among his list of the top five Polish dishes ever, deserve the high ranking. Try them with seeded rye bread and a new potato butter and fresh dill. The recipe (below) doesn’t call for it, but if you like dill, you might want to add a couple of tablespoons of the fresh herb to the meat mixture for added flavor. Also see my note at the end about substituting tomato sauce for the called-for plum tomatoes and butter.

(Yields 18 rolls)

2 onions, chopped
1 Tbl. vegetable oil, butter or bacon fat
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
Salt and pepper
1 head of cabbage (approximately 3 lbs.)
1 cup of beef broth

Fry the onions in oil, butter or bacon fat until golden. Mix the onions with the rice, beef and pork and season with salt and pepper.

Place the whole head of cabbage in a large pot of boiling water. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the cabbage from the pot and gently separate a few soft outer leaves from the head. Return the cabbage to the pot and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Remove the cabbage from the pot again and separate a few more softened outer leaves. Repeat the process until all leaves are separated. Cut out the hard center stem from each leaf.

Place about 1/8 cup of the meat mixture, in a small loaf-shaped mound, on each cabbage leaf. Roll the leaf around the stuffing, the long way, folding each side over the stuffing like an envelope, to seal the sides. Place the stuffed cabbage rolls next to each other in a baking dish small enough that the cabbage rolls are tightly packed. Pour the beef broth over the rolls.

Bake uncovered at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes and remove from the oven.

TOMATO SAUCE (Prepare while cabbage rolls are baking)*

One 14-oz can of plum tomatoes
1/2 cup of butter
Salt and pepper

In a sauce pan, bring the tomatoes and butter to a boil. Break up the tomatoes as they cook. Reduce to a simmer and cook the tomato butter mixture until it thickens. This may take 20 to 30 minutes.

Blend mixture on low in a blender or with an immersion blender. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover the baking dish. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 1 hour.

Cabbage rolls taste best when reheated, for 45 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

*NOTE: Instead of the canned plum tomatoes and butter, you can simply use a 16-ounce can of tomato sauce, which is simpler and lower in fat and calories.

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