Stuffed Cabbage Recipe (Balandeliai)
Stuffed cabbage has been popular among Eastern Europeans for centuries. A hearty comfort food that warms your body and fills your kitchen with enticing redolence, stuffed cabbage is known by many names.
Lithuanians call it balandėliai, Hungarians call it töltött káposzta, Czech and Slovak cultures call it holupky, and Poles call it golabki. Often referred to as “little doves” or “little pigeons,” my family always called them “blind pigeons,” while still others call them “pigs in the blanket.” Call it what you like, this dish is delicious comfort food!
Our balandeliai stuffed cabbage recipe serves eight to 10 people as a main course. It reheats exceptionally well and may even taste better the second day after the flavors have had a chance to meld together.
Serve it steaming hot in bowls with lots of its tomato sauce and a dollop of sour cream. Don’t forget a loaf of your favorite crusty bread to soak up the sauce!
Blind Pigeons (Balandėliai)
From the Kitchen of Peter Naujalis, 1929 – 1985
- 6.75 lbs ground pork
- 1 large head cabbage
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- ½ cup whole milk
- 3 ribs celery
- 2 medium onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 4 oz. saltine crackers (1 sleeve)
- 7 cups tomato puree
- 9 ¾ cups condensed tomato soup
- 4 cups water
- 2 tsp seasoned salt
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pennycress seed (also known as kolytos; optional)
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 1 tsp mustard seed
- ½ tsp msg
- ½ tsp pepper
- sour cream, for garnish
Yield: serves 8 to 10 as a main course.
With a sharp knife, carefully carve a circle into the center of the cabbage to remove its central core. Discard the core and one outer leaf. Rinse the cabbage under cold water and place it with the hole facing down in a stockpot. Add 4 cups of water to the pot. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, covered for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat, but leave the covered pot on the stove so that the cabbage has additional time to soften. Do not discard the water as
you will use it later.
Add the eggs, evaporated milk, whole milk, and crackers to the
pitcher of a blender and blend until combined. Add the celery, onions, and garlic. Blend on high speed until the mixture is a smooth purée.
Add the ground pork to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the seasoned salt, salt, pennycress seed, marjoram, mustard seed, msg, and pepper over the pork. Blend the seasonings into the pork with your hands until thoroughly mixed and distributed throughout the pork.
Pour the liquid mixture from the blender over the pork and continue blending with your hands until well combined. Set this pork mixture aside.
Remove the cabbage from the pot of water. Carefully peel the cabbage leaves off the head one-by-one (trying not to tear them) and place them on a large plate or in a bowl.
Since the stuffed cabbage needs to cook for several hours and the cabbage leaves will unravel if stirred too frequently, cooking with two separate stockpots is ideal. If your blind pigeons are only two or three layers deep, you will be able to
swirl the entire batch of them around the stockpot without
disturbing their cabbage jackets. If you place everything in one
giant stockpot, chances are, the very bottom layer will stick or burn.
Place two stockpots on your counter. Add 3 ½ cups of the tomato puree to each pot. Divide the condensed tomato soup between the two pots. Add two cups of the cabbage water to each pot. Stir each pot until the sauce is well combined.
Place a cabbage leaf on a cutting board or large plate. Mound some of the pork mixture in the center of the leaf — approximately ¾ cup to 1 cup — depending on the size of the leaf. Fold the thickest side of the leaf (with the heavy central vein) over the pork mixture. Fold the opposite side over the mixture, followed by the other two more pliable sides. Be careful to cover the pork mixture completely with the leaf.
Place the blind pigeon seam side down in the tomato sauce. Continue this process of folding the pork mixture into cabbage leaf jackets until all of the large cabbage leaves are used up or you run out of pork. Each time, place the blind pigeon seam side down in the tomato sauce. Tuck any remaining cabbage leaves into the sauce. If you have leftover pork, form it into balls and place them in the sauce.
Gently push the blind pigeons down into the sauce so they are
covered with tomato sauce. Place the stockpots on the stove and
heat over medium heat until the sauce boils. Reduce the heat to a
simmer and cover the pots with lids.
Simmer for 3.5 hours, very gently swirling everything around in the pot every 30 minutes (just enough swirling to keep the bottom layer from sticking to the pot).
Serve these blind pigeons in bowls with tomato sauce ladled over the stuffed cabbage. Top the balandeliai with a dollop of sour cream. Gero apetito!