Honoring My Ancestors: Christmas Eve 2011, Recipe #2 – Goląbki (Polish Stuffed Cabbage)

Here’s the second “main dish” I prepared for our Christmas Eve buffet this year (see previous post for the first recipe, Pierogi in a casserole form, which also describes two other ways I’ve dished those little dumplings up in the past – including the version Mom learned from Dad and his mother). I doubled the recipe below when cooking up the Christmas batch, with a few revisions as noted. Doubling gave me enough to freeze to give to my brother for a future meal as well as for ourselves. In fact, we had Bill’s sister over for dinner a couple nights ago and served her stuffed cabbage too! She toted home some leftover goląbki (gwum-kee) along with mashed potatoes.


Even though Dad’s family was the Polish side, I remember vividly how many of Mom’s family members were wild about them – even to the point where, on one of our get-togethers in Schenectady’s Central Park in the late ’50s, it was requested that Dad make them. It didn’t matter that it was a picnic where hot dogs, hamburgers and salads generally prevailed. It was an opportunity to eat George’s gwum-kees! No one made them like my father, who learned from his mom, Nana Zembo. He showed Mom how to create them. I had to corner my mother one afternoon when she was in her late 60s, standing beside her at my stove, to get the ingredients and cooking process into writing. I didn’t want the family recipe to disappear.

Central Park, Schenectady, NY, toasting marshmallows under the golabki pot - left to right: Marilyn (me), Uncle Arch, Aunt Ann (in back at table with Dad, Uncle Corley), cousin Gary, brother George, cousin Archie. 1950s.

I’ve even written a short story, “Gerta’s Path,” which takes place in my grandparents’ old neighborhood in Albany, NY, and features goląbki. It’s theme? …how you serve up love.

Dad, Europe, World War 2


NANA ZEMBO’S GOLĄBKI (Polish Stuffed Cabbage)
(Makes from 20 to 30 stuffed cabbages, depending on how large your cabbage is!)

  • 2 large heads of cabbage
  • ¼ to ½ lb. salt pork
  • 2 cups cooked rice (cooked it in beef broth this time, only difference from the original recipe)
  • 2½ to 3 lbs. ground chuck (actually, I used 80% beef as it’s a bit healthier)
  • up to 1 lb. loose pork sausage (optional; also, I use about ½ lb.-too much more makes meat stick together more than preferred)
  • 3 or 4 eggs (generally use 3)
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder (or paste, my preference), 1 tsp. each or to taste
  • 1 large can tomato puree
  • 1 large can water (use puree can)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced


  1. Cook cabbage in boiling water until pliable (1 to 1½ hour). Test core for doneness; do not poke leaves. (I cut around the core of the cabbage before placing them in the water. It’s lots easier to pull leaves away for filling later on.)
  2. While cabbage cooks, dice salt pork into small cubes, first cutting away grizzle from back of pork. (Alternatively, pork can be ground in food processor after removing grizzle.) Fry until crisp and brown.
  3. Mix hamburger, pork (if using), eggs and rice with salt, pepper and garlic powder (or garlic paste).
  4. Add salt pork from fry pan, including the grease to the meat mixture.
  5. Line bottom of a large oven roaster pan with outside pieces of cabbage that possibly softened too much for filling.
  6. Fill each cabbage leaf with meat mixture, folding over to close four times (side closest to you, then sides on left and right, followed by the side furthest way – thus covering all the mean mixture inside).
  7. Place filled cabbages in pan, folded side down, layering as necessary.
  8. Pour puree over stuffed cabbages; then pour water over everything.
  9. Distribute sliced onions over the top.
  10. Cook in pre-heated 350º oven for 1½ to 2 hours, until done (slice one stuffed cabbage in half to determine if meat inside is sufficiently cooked—and check cabbage to be sure bulkier pieces are tender enough for eating).
  11. Serve with mashed potatoes as a side dish. I also enjoy a side of wax (yellow) beans with them.

    Nana Zembo

7 responses

  1. Oh my Goodness!!! Thank you for this recipe. I grew up across the street from a Polish woman who made the BEST Golabki and I miss them very much. There is a Russian Orthodox church that makes and sells them for Easter but they are just a touch different than what I remember. I’m assuming you use a sweet sausage, yes? All I can find around here is a sweet Italian sausage but I’m willing to make my own if need be.

      • I’m sorry, Jeni– I was in a hurry to get out the door when I read your comment and all that registered was the Italian sausage! Back from that appointment and saw your response. Yes, sausage included in the ingredients but it’s really optional. And it’s plain ol’ breakfast-type (but ground, no casings). Don’t overdo it though. Once when I hadn’t made them for a long time, and never referring to a recipe when I make them, I used way too much – it adds flavor & helps hold them together, but these stuck together way too well! Still tasty, but I do like them to fall apart a little bit with the fork, not slice like a meatloaf!

  2. Oh excellent! now I follow you.. and I have lots of breakfast type sausage in my freezer. I made some over the summer and it’s very mildy seasoned. I bet it will work perfectly!

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