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yummy little pigeons (aka stuffed cabbage rolls)

Author’s Note: I originally posted this recipe on August 26, 2011. It is the one I make most often in the winter that reminds me of my family. These cabbage rolls are a delicious labor of love.

Relax, it’s not really a pigeon. My mom’s father was Polish, and we grew up eating my grandmother’s “gwumpki,” spelled golabki in Polish, which means “little pigeon.” Gwumpki, galumpki, etc. are cabbage rolls stuffed with pork/beef and rice and topped with tomato sauce. Sounds gross, right? I think they are delicious, but members of my family disagree on the subject. We’re as divided in how to eat them as we are in their taste. I’ll eat them any way at all, plain, salted, ketchuped, whatever. One of my uncles is known to unroll them and drench them in ketchup, claiming this is the only way they are edible. What can you expect from the baby in the family? Nate loves them as much if not more than I do, and I’m convinced it was my mom’s gwumpki that sealed the deal on our marriage.

Even the Food Network has a recipe for gwumpki! I was really surprised to find so much information out there on the interwebs. I haven’t found any recipe so far describing the level of detail, like the little tips my mom and I picked up over the years, that I think you need to make it a successful project. So here goes…

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Prep Time: About an hour, with a few pauses to sip wine and curse at whatever has gone wrong
Servings: a thousand, and you’ll find another container in two weeks in the back of the fridge
Smell: Revolting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

1 1/2 cups white rice (1 tsp. salt & 1 Tbs. oil)
2 large heads of regular green cabbage (not Napa)
2 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
2 eggs, beaten
1 large onion, small diced
1 tsp. each of: salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika
2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1 big can of crushed tomatoes (28 oz) or two cans of condensed tomato soup
1 Tbs. minced garlic
drizzle of olive oil
1 big oval-shaped “gwumpki pan” (aka roaster) with lid

Boil 3 cups of water. Add salt, oil and rice; reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until water is absorbed. Set aside to cool. I usually cook the rice earlier in the day and put it in the fridge.

Boil a big pot of water. Remove cores from cabbages and boil one head at a time for 10 minutes each. As you are able to, remove outer leaves and place in an ice water bath. Be sure not to rip them. If the leaves get stuck while you’re trying to remove them, put the cabbage back into the boiling water for a few more minutes. After all cabbage leaves are in the cold water, set up a drying station with a couple of sets of paper towels; divide leaves into big, medium and small. Cut the tough stem out of the medium leaves only (these are your stuffing leaves). Line the roasting pan on the bottom and sides with the small leaves so the gwumpki will stay moist and won’t burn. Reserve the big leaves for the very end; you will put these on top. You will understand why you did all this prep work later.

Put the meat and all remaining ingredients except the tomato sauce (egg, onion, spices, rice) in a big bowl. Combine with your hands.image
Stuffing the gwumpkis
Preheat oven to 350 degF. Get your medium leaves out. Put 1/2 cup filling into the stem side of the leaf, fold in the sides, and roll up. Stick vertically in the pot. Keep going until all the filling is used.image
Add any remaining medium leaves and the big leaves on top of the gwumpki. Mix tomatoes and garlic, then pour mixture on rolls and a drizzle of oil on top. Crack extra fresh black pepper on top if you like.image
Add the lid and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours. If you like a bite to your cabbage, it will probably take 1.5 hours. We like ours deader than dead, so we cook it 2 hours.

Voila! Dinner is served. I didn’t add a picture of the end result because a picture does not do it justice. It is considerably better tasting than looking. [Note to intrepid readers considering taking on the task of gwumpki-making: Despite your sweating and cursing and hard work, no one will really appreciate what it takes to make it happen. Gwumpki is a labor of love.]

Bon appetit!

Author’s note: This post is part of Fight Back FridayPennywise Platter Thursday GNOWFGLINS Tomatoes Seasonal Recipe Round-Up, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, and Real Food Wednesday