I’ve been living in California for 13 years now, and I can honestly say I never really had encountered homesickness. When you move to a new country you’re so excited at first. You take every opportunity to experience the new culture, environment, and people. For some, that initial excitement might die down and they might start to miss their homeland. This usually results in two things happening: they eventually wait out that feeling and come to accept the new country as their home or they move back, hopefully appreciating the time they spent as a foreigner. For me, it was a bit different. I have never stopped being excited. I was so busy and happy that I never had room to be homesick.
That is until I went to the market the other day and for some reason I was compelled to buy a beautiful head of fresh cabbage. I couldn’t believe it, but I started to feel a little longing for Poland. I realized this was my first real experience of homesickness. I’m not going to move back or anything. I really consider California my home, but I have to admit I got pretty nostalgic when I got that cabbage. I know that sounds odd, but homesickness can be triggered by a variety of things: a song or a melody, a smell, a person’s accent, a weather pattern, a movie. For me, as silly and goofy as it was, I got it from cabbage.
So in honor of my of my first homesick feeling in 13 years I am going to make Golumpki. That’s right cabbage rolls. Golumpki is one of the better-known Polish dishes in the States along with Kielbasa and Pierogies. Many conversations I have with people in the states, after they find out I’m Polish and love to cook, go something like, “You’re Polish? Oh, I just had GA LOM KI.” Which is a very American and very funny sounding way to pronounce Golumpki, It is actually pronounced GA WHOMP KEE.
Unfortunately I have not found a good representation of Golumpki in the states. Even in Polish Greenpoint of New York. The Cabbage rolls I saw were unappetizing, to say the least. I wouldn’t recommend anyone eating those things. Well, unless they wanted to travel back to Poland in the 1970s, which I think many of the residents of Greenpoint immigrated during that time. So I’m going to do a great recipe with a couple of twists to make it more up to date and sophisticated. So here is my version of Golumpki. We’ll call it:
Homesick Cabbage Rolls
- 1 small green cabbage (preferably young)
- 1 1/2 cups cut in pieces, fresh tomatoes (or canned)
- 1/4 pound of ground beef
- 1/3 cup of cooked rice
- 1 egg
- few sprigs of fresh dill
- 2-3 green onions with chives
- salt pepper,
- balsamic vinegar
- small amount of vegetable oil for frying
- Wash vegetables thoroughly.
- Blanch the cabbage head by dropping it into a big pot of boiling water for about 5-10 minutes (the cabbage should be entirely covered with water).
- Take cabbage out of the pot; let it cool down and drain any remaining water. Set the water in the pot aside it will be needed for later.
- Carefully separate each leaf without making holes in it and gently pat dry with a paper towel; cut off thick stems convex the leaf so it can be as flat as possible
- Mix together raw meat, egg and rice, work it well with your fingers into a homogeneous mass, season with salt, pepper, marjoram and a small amount of finely chopped garlic.
- Place in each leaf a small amount of ground meat leaving enough room on sides, so it can be easily wrapped; fold over the meat symmetrically two opposite sides of the leaf first and then roll the other two sides over it.
- Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the cabbage rolls on both sides to the point when the cabbage gets slightly burnt.
- Add tomatoes, dill and onion to the skillet.
- Begin to simmer vegetables on a slightly lower heat, slowly adding water remaining from blanching the cabbage, rolls should be barely covered with the liquid; simmer on medium heat for about 60 minutes.
- Season the sauce to desired taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle the top with balsamic vinegar.
- Reduce the sauce until it thickens up.
Traditionally Golumpki was made with dull looking white cabbage and plain water-downed tomato sauce, which produces a grey faded looking dish. The ones in Greenpoint looked like this, and we don’t have to make dishes like this anymore.
Here is a hint when making traditional dishes you can easily elevate the appearance and appeal of the dish by just contrasting elements on the plate. For instance instead of faded white cabbage we used fresh green cabbage, which the color just pops out at you and screams eat me, please. The bright green looks perfect with the beautiful thick red tomato sauce. Using the entire sprig of dill adds a more interesting texture that garnishes the plate nicely. And to spice up the dish we Browned the Cabbage rolls and braised them with the tomato sauce and veggies giving a unique flavor, feel and look to Golumpki, as well as neutralizing the sometimes overpowering aroma of cooked cabbage. A touch of Balsamic vinegar at the end gives the dish a refined acidity that unifies all the ingredients.
I guess this dish is exactly like my homesick experience. A touch of nostalgia of Poland coupled with my new excitement from California.
Here’s to Homesickness,