Although spelled with an “L”, my family always pronounced it “ga-wump-key”. It is Polish comfort food, hearty in the winter and durable in the freezer. It is also one of those dishes that improves with each day in the fridge (to a point).
The classic version is ground meat and rice wrapped in a cabbage leaf and braised in tomato juice. It is, however, more a technique than a recipe and so I offer substitutions and suggestions below for a vegetarian version.
Start by coring a full head of cabbage, putting it in a large pot of water and bringing to a simmer. It doesn’t have to be covered in water, but it should have room to roll around. Have a large bowl nearby to harvest the outer leaves of the cabbage as they loosen and peel away from the head.
While the cabbage comes to a simmer and the rice cooks, brown the ground meat. The classic version would call for half beef and half pork to form about half of the total mixture (the rice forming the other half).
Next cook batch of rice. You can use anything you want, basmati, brown rice, or even a different grain like quinoa or millet; but, for the classic version I use plain old Uncle Ben’s.
You can, however, use whatever you want. If all you have is ground beef, then make them with all beef. You could substitute ground turkey for either meat. It’s really up to you. It is important, however, that you brown the meat well. The brown crust on that meat represents added flavor! This usually means browning in more than one batch. Remember, just because it all fits in the pan doesn’t mean it’s a good idea!
In a large bowl, mix the browned meat, the cooked rice, and a large can of diced tomatoes and their juice. Season with dry oregano and salt and pepper to taste.
Once the cabbage has simmered a while, use tongs to peel the leaves off one at a time. As each comes off, it enables the next layer to simmer and loosen. Peel them until they are too small to roll. The resulting cabbage will be about the size of a grapefruit.
Set up a large roasting pan and pour enough tomato juice in to cover the bottom.
To roll them, hold a cabbage leaf in the palm of your hand with the root end toward your wrist. Put a medium-sized dollop of filling in the center and turn the sides of the leaf inward over the filling. Now role from the heel of your hand toward the fingertips.
Place the rolled galumpki (my grandmother used to call a single one a “galumbek”) in the roasting pan seam side down. Continue until the pan is full or you are out of cabbage, reserving the largest two or three leaves. It’s ok for them to be snug, but keep it to a single layer.
Pour more tomato juice until the level comes 1/3 up the galumpki. Cover with the largest cabbage leaves (or the small remainders if necessary) and then with foil. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. (Be careful when it comes out as there will be a lot of steam built up under that foil!)
Vegetarian Version: The main thing to remember when adapting the classic version to a vegetarian version is that meat provides a pervasive texture and flavor. This means compensating for that with different ingredients. For example, when making a vegetarian version, I always switch the white rice to brown rice and sometimes, time permitting, wheat berries. This gives a more robust texture.
Fresh herbs look pretty, but after braising for nearly an hour, all the flavor will be cooked out. use dry herbs. Also, be generous with the S&P.
Use a variety of vegetables, but cut them all to a fine dice. This lends texture, but also helps them cook evenly. Use colors, carrots, turnips, and a large can of diced tomatoes. If you use onions, lightly sauté them first or else they will not lose their harshness.
Again, alternative grains would work well. Consider quinoa, millet, bulghur, or barley in combination with, or substitution for the rice.
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