Polish stuffed cabbage rolls are a traditional dish, equally popular as a family dinner idea as well as party food. My easy to make, healthy cabbage rolls in tomato sauce are made using turkey meat and are very uncomplicated.
Polish stuffed cabbage rolls (golabki) are easy to make and do not require any special skills. If you follow a few simple rules (listed below) your cabbage rolls will be fantastic.
Are cabbage rolls healthy?
Yes, yes, yes! After all it’s just cabbage, rice and meat and a bit of tomato sauce. If you use fatty meat they are a little less healthy of course, which is why I prefer to use turkey meat. Turkey meat is naturally lean and turkey mince containing 7% of fat is perfect for cabbage rolls (I don’t recommend using extra lean turkey mince).
What cabbage should I use
Use ordinary white cabbage. I usually go for a medium sized cabbage. If your cabbage is too small it might be tricky to stuff the leaves. On the other hand, very large cabbage leaves produce very large cabbage rolls which is not necessarily too attractive. So medium is best.
How many cabbage rolls will I get
Depending on the size of your cabbage and the amount of filling you use you will get anywhere between 12 and 16 cabbage rolls.
Prepping the cabbage
You will need to cut out the tough middle bit of the cabbage (approx. 3 cm deep, see photo below). It will be easier to remove the leaves and they will cook faster. Place your cabbage in a large pot, fill with water (about half way), cover and bring to boil. Then simmer for 10 minutes or until the leaves start separating. Transfer the cabbage onto a plate or cutting board and separate the leaves from the top layer (using 2 forks). Place the cabbage back in the pot, simmer for a few more minutes and remove a few more leaves.
Repeat this process until you have about 16 leaves. Don’t worry if some of them tear, you’ll be able to use them for lining the bottom of your casserole dish.
Next slice off the tough middle bit from each leaf (the outer part of the leaf, see photo). Your leaves are now ready to be turned into cabbage rolls.
How to prep the rice
Cook the rice al dente (by using a little less water than normally) with a little salt (1/3 teaspoon) before combining with the meat, onions and seasoning. Allow it to cool completely before making the stuffing mixture.
How to make Polish stuffed cabbage rolls – golabki
Form a large oval shaped meatball using the stuffing mixture and place inside a cabbage leaf. Fold in the longer sides and wrap the stuffing in the leaf starting from the thick end of the leaf. Do this as tightly as you can tucking the mixture in with your fingers as you roll. Arrange the cabbage rolls (with the end bit of the cabbage leaf down) on top of the cabbage leaves in the oven dish as close together as possible. Then combine the sauce ingredients (hot water, stock cubes, passata and tomato puree) and pour over the cabbage rolls.
Lastly cover the cabbage rolls with a piece of non-stick baking paper cut to fit your dish (or bits of torn leaves and small leaves if you prefer and if you’ve got any left), cover with a lid or tin foil and bake for 1.5 hours.
Prepping the ingredients ahead
This recipe does take a fair bit of time, as it involves boiling and cooling and baking, but the good news is you can prepare the ingredients in advance.
You can cook the cabbage and prepare the leaves ahead and once cooled completely, cover and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before making the cabbage rolls to bring them up to room temperature.
You can also cook the rice ahead and, once cooled, refrigerate until you are ready to make the recipe.
Things to remember
Use the larger leaves to make your cabbage rolls and reserve the smaller ones for lining the oven dish (and covering the cabbage rolls, if there are any leftover, alternatively use non-stick paper).
Wrap the stuffing in the leaves as tightly as possible and place the cabbage rolls one by one in your dish very close together. The end bit of every cabbage roll should be facing downwards.
Can I adapt this recipe
Absolutely! Traditional cabbage rolls recipes call for pork and it’s fine to use that instead of turkey in this recipe. Some people also add raw (minced) bacon to the stuffing as well as a little beef. As for spices I personally think salt and pepper do the job quite well, but, again, you could add parsley, oregano, marjoram or other spices.
What can I serve with cabbage rolls
Traditionally Polish cabbage rolls are served with mashed potatoes, but I think they are best served as they are without any sides.
Alternative ways of cooking cabbage rolls
As with all traditional recipes (those that have been around for a long time) there is more than one way of making them. You could use a deep pot and arrange the cabbage rolls in layers. You could also cook them on top of the stove, but this method is trickier as the cabbage might stick to the pot and burn.
Polish cabbage rolls can also be made without the tomato sauce. For example my aunt uses only water (and seasons her cabbage rolls really well). Or you could cook them in water and make a quick tomato sauce and add it towards the end of cooking. (Use the sauce from the cabbage rolls, combine with some tomato puree and a teaspoon of flour dissolved in a little water. Pour over the cabbage rolls and cook uncovered for the final 15 minutes).
I cooked these cabbage rolls in a rich tomato sauce so they have lovely tangy notes running through them. In my opinion tomatoes complement the sweetness of the cabbage extremely well.
I tried to cover all aspects of making cabbage rolls, but if you still have questions please get in touch!
Another recipe using rice and turkey mince you might like are my easy turkey and rice stuffed peppers.
- 1 medium white cabbage
- 500 g turkey mince, brown meat, approx. 7% fat
- 140 g rice, approx. 2/3 cup, plus 1 and 1/4 cup water for cooking
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup tomato passata
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 and 1/4 cups hot water
- 1.5 vegetable stock cubes
- Fine sea salt and pepper, see Instructions for recommended amounts
Prepare the cabbage by cutting out the tough middle bit (see photo above). Place the cabbage in a large pot, cut end down, fill with water about half way, cover and bring to boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and boil for about 10 minutes, covered, until the outer leaves start separating. Remove the cabbage from the pot and carefully place the loose leaves on a plate one by one. Put the cabbage back in the pot, continue simmering, then remove a few more leaves. Repeat this process until you’ve got about 16-18 leaves.
Whilst the cabbage is simmering rinse the rice thoroughly, combine with 1 and ¼ cup of water, add 1/3 teaspoon of salt, cover and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, covered, until all the rice has been absorbed. Place in a large bowl and set aside to cool completely.
In a frying pan heat up the oil, add the onion and cook over a low heat for about 3-4 minutes until softened and golden. Combine with the rice and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 F/ 190 C/ gas mark 5. Line a large casserole dish with cabbage leaves (the small ones or ones that have torn) and set aside.
Using a sharp knife slice off the tough bit running along the length of the cabbage leaf on the outside (see photo). Be careful not to split the leaf. Do this for each leaf.
Combine the rice and onion mixture (once cooled) with the meat, add plenty of pepper and 2/3 teaspoon of fine sea salt (less than 1) and stir thoroughly.
Make a good size oval shaped meatball and place in the leaf. To make a cabbage roll fold in the longer sides, then wrap the filling starting with the thick end of the leaf. Press the mixture in with your fingers as you are rolling and roll as tightly as possible. Place the cabbage rolls one by one in the casserole dish so they are nice and snug, very close together.
Make the sauce by dissolving the stock cube in the hot water, adding the passata and tomato paste and pouring this mixture over the cabbage rolls. Cover with a sheet of no-stick paper cut to fit the shape of your dish (or small leaves if there are any left), cover with a lid or tin foil and bake in the centre of the oven for 1.5 hours.
Both the cabbage leaves and rice can be cooked the night before and, once cooled, refrigerated.
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