Babcia’s Gołąbki–The Best Cabbage Rolls Ever!

Cabbage Rolls

For me, the easiest way to collect tender leaves suitable for stuffing was to core the cabbage, and  boil the head. Remove when the exterior leaves are tender,peel them off, then return the head to the pot.Continue in this vein. There are other ways, but this way worked best for me.

Disclaimer: This is not a recipe you can whip up in 30 minutes. This is a Polish Grandmother Recipe. And anyone who is a Polish Grandmother, or anyone who has a Polish Grandmother, or anyone (like me) who lives next door to a Polish Grandmother, knows that Polish Grandmother Recipes can’t be completed in less than thirty minutes.

But was my time spent on the following recipe worth it? I thought so. Absolutely. And so did my panel of expert eaters, who demanded the recipe. Here are some tips I learned in dividing up the prep for this recipe into manageable bites.

I made the tomato sauce a few days ahead, and the meat mixture 24 hours in advance. (I’ve also made the stuffed leaves and frozen them before baking. After a six week hiatus in the freezer, I thawed them, baked them and then enjoyed them.)

Cut out the tough center vein before rolling.

Cut out the tough center vein.

The only thing that I found to be a pain in the rear, was peeling off the cabbage leaves as they tenderized in boiling water. That’s a big head of cabbage to keep extracting and plopping back into boiling water. Wear rubber gloves.

My girlfriend, Janet disagrees. Says its easy. While boiling the cabbage, simply flick off the leaves and put them in a pan as they become tender. No need to keep removing the head from the water. I asked my friend if she had actually tried this flick method. She said, no, she saw it on TV. Martha Stewart makes the preparation of Molten Lava Cake look as easy as making a PB&J. You see my point.

Place rolled leaves seam side down in prepared pan.

Place rolled leaves seam side down.

Another Disclaimer: Your Polish Grandmother’s recipe for cabbage rolls may be different than mine. After all, my Polish Grandmother is fictional, a character in my next novel. And she’s passed away, at that. In the book, however, memories of her integrity influence her granddaughters as they struggle to keep their Detroit diner afloat.  I made several different batches of cabbage leaves and decided that this recipe is what my Babcia makes. To my palate, as well as hers and her granddaughters, they are exquisite. 


Before covering in foil and baking.

My next-door neighbor, Krystina, is a non-fiction, flesh and blood, Polish Grandmother who was raised in Poland. Her cabbage leaves are  smaller, more delicate and have less stuffing and ingredients than the recipe below.

Delicious, most assuredly, but they are different. She tsk, tsked my recipe. Said they were too bulky. Hey! It’s a big world! You can’t pick a battle with a fictional Polish Grandmother! Especially one who’s passed away and is not able to defend herself. There’s plenty of room for every Polish Grandmother Recipe for cabbage rolls on the web.

By the way, it’s that time of year. You’ll find my favorite holiday recipes  by clicking the gold holiday ball in the right hand column.

Recipe: Babcia’s Cabbage Rolls


  • 1 large green cabbage*
  • Stuffing (recipe follows)
  • Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Chopped fresh dill for garnish (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Fill a pot that is large enough to accommodate cabbage head ¾ way full of heavily salted water. Place head in boiling water and cook 10-15 minutes or until outermost cabbage leaves are tender enough to remove. Remove from water and drain head in a colander. Do not pour out water from pot as inner cabbage will likely need more cooking time.
  3. When cool enough to handle, carefully peel away 12-14 of the outermost leaves. (Note that you may have to peel the outer layers first and then return the cabbage to cook if the inner leaves can’t be removed with ease.) With paper towels or a clean cloth, pat leaves dry.
  4. To facilitate rolling the leaf, with a sharp knife, cut out tough vein from the center of leaf. Depending on the size of the leaf, place 1-2 tablespoons of stuffing in the center of each leaf. Beginning at what was once the stem end, tuck in sides of leaf and roll up to completely encase stuffing. Continue in this manner until you’ve filled 12-14 leaves. Any extra filling may be rolled into meatballs and cooked alongside leaves in the sauce. Coarsely chop the remaining cabbage.
  5. Select 1-2 casserole dishes large enough to accommodate the cabbage rolls and sauce. Place chopped cabbage at the bottom of the dishes. (This will keep the bottom of the rolls from burning.) Place cabbage rolls, seam side down, atop cabbage in casserole(s). Ladle prepared tomato sauce over all of the cabbage rolls. Cover with non-stick foil or foil covered with cooking oil spray. This will keep the foil from sticking to the sauce.
  6. Bake on center rack of oven 60-90 minutes or until cabbage rolls can be pierce with the prongs of a fork.
  7. When finished cooking, remove the stuffed cabbage leaves from the pan carefully with a spatula. Top the rolls with the tomato sauce, with grated black pepper and chopped dill, if using. Serve hot. Rolls may be refrigerated for 4 days or frozen and reheated before serving. Delicious served with mashed potatoes.

* You will need 12-16 medium-large intact leaves for the recipe, depending on the size of the leaf. If small cabbages are only available, purchase 2 heads. I found it easier to blanch the cabbage, remove the leaves, and re-blanch the leaves until just tender. I also tried freezing the cabbage to soften the leaves.That method didn’t work so well for me.

Active time: 55 minutes

Baking time: 60-90 minutes

Number of servings (yield): # 6-8 servings (12-16 rolls)

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.



  • 1 large egg
  • ¾ pound ground beef (80/20 grind)
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 1 cup cooked long grain brown rice
  • ¼ cup minced shallot or onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 3 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, optional
  • ¾ cup sauerkraut, rinsed, drained and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ tablespoon Hungarian paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper


  1.  In a large bowl, beat egg.
  2. With a large spoon or fork, mix in ground meats, cooked rice, minced shallot or onion, chopped dill, fennel, if using, sauerkraut, tomato paste, paprika, salt and pepper. Mixture may be made up to 24 hours in advance.

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.



  • 28 ounce tomato sauce
  • 14 ounces diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • ½ teaspoon allspice or cinnamon, fresh-grated preferred


  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, garlic and allspice. Bring to a low boil and then reduce to simmer.
  2. Simmer twenty to thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with additional vinegar or sugar, if desired. Tomato sauce may be made up to four days in advance.

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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