Stuffed cabbage or Golabki

I'm always most thrilled by recipes that transform dull things into exciting things. Culinary alchemy - that's what I'm on the hunt for. I don't need to know what to do with caviar, or salmon, or fillet steak, or really fresh egg pasta. You just eat it. I want to know what to do with 1 kg of slightly past-it tomatoes, or a really old bunch of coriander, or an entire celeriac.

Or, for example, a savoy cabbage that's seen better days and some beef mince that's going to go off TODAY!!! if we don't eat it.

The answer is stuffed cabbage. Or, as they say in Poland, golabki. I don't think it's pronounced "gol-ab-kee" because it is written with all manner of flourishes and flounces on the letters. It is probably, in fact, pronounced "dumplings". Anyway, I just love this; it presses all my buttons - it is incredibly cheap, tasty and resourceful. It's not very spring/summer, I admit, but as I've said before, that's all for massive losers. There's nothing more comforting on a chilly spring evening that's followed an unseasonably warm spring day, than a bowl of golabki. Sorry, I meant dumplings.

Fans of Mamgu's Sausage and Cabbage Hotpot will not be disappointed.

This was made for me by my husband the other day, by way of an apology for coming home drunk, falling asleep and snoring, then becoming irritated when I scuppered his crapulent quest to urinate in my wardrobe at 1am.

He sourced the recipe from a book, which enjoys something of a cult status among aged North London Trots, called Old Polish Traditions in the Kitchen and at the Table. As well as golabki, there is also a recipe in there for "Ox Tongue in Grey Sauce", which just between you and me, I won't be trying - but it's the kind of thing that dusty old Commies do so love.

Okay, so the principle of this is that you use the smaller, daintier cabbage leaves (as opposed to the giant leathery outer leaves) to wrap parcels of meat-and-rice mixture in like a kind of Soviet dim sum.

Really, one ought to use pork mince but we didn't have any, so this is with beef mince. If you're going shopping specially for this, probably get pork mince - why not? We also used brown rice for this, when the recipe specifies white. I mean personally I just can't get enough of camargue rice, but if you want to use white, do.

Golabki with rice and mushrooms
For 4

You will need:

1 Savoy cabbage
1 packet of beef or pork mince - the ones at Waitrose usually come in at about 500g
Some dried mushrooms - about three tablespoons dried measurement
100g rice
1 large or two small-ish onions or shallots or whatever you've got knocking about, chopped
some stock - about 1/2 pint... actual stock rather than something out of a cube is probably essential here, and you know how slapdash I am about things like that
salt and pepper

1 Cut out the cabbage stump and then simmer the whole thing for 15 mins. Set aside to cool.

2 Boil and drain the rice. The good thing about this recipe is that you can be the world's shittest cooker of rice (like me) and it doesn't matter.

3 Sautee the chopped onions for a while - a good 10 minutes I'd say. Also rehydrate the dried mushrooms in about 300ml of boiling water. When rehydrated sieve the mushrooms (reserve the rehydration water) and chop.

4 In a bowl combine the mince, onion, mushrooms, rice, salt and pepper. Here feel free to add other things if you're feeling racy. Some chorizo, maybe - or a few herbs. Chillies? A dash of Lea & Perrins?

5 Line a casserole dish with the scraggy outer leaves of the cabbage. Then use the smaller inner leaves like wrapping paper, putting a ping-pong ball sized amount of the stuffing in the centre of the cabbage and parcelling it up, then place in the casserole dish on top of the scraggy leaves. My husband is very good at stuff like this, so it's possibly fiddlier than he made it seem. Anyway, it looked fun from where I was standing.

6 Once you've used up all your stuffing mixture, pour in the mushroom water and top up with some stock. It's not an exact science, you just want there to be liquid coming up about a third or a half up the sides of the golabki.

7 Bake in a 170C oven for 2 hours. It's one of those things that's very nice when re-heated.

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