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As the world becomes smaller and smaller due to the wonders of modern technology, the popularity of ethnic cuisine conversely, grows and grows. Proof of this is abundant if you take a look at the many food-related festivals in the Chicago-area this summer including Mole de Mayo, Lincoln Park Greek Fest, Taste of Little Village: Flavors of Mexico, Tacos Y Tamales Festivale, Taste of Greektown, Taste of Polonia…the list goes on and on.

Don Zajac, executive chef at Monarch Landing, creates a variety of fabulous dishes for the residents of the retirement community, while harboring a special personal affinity for Polish fare. He generously shared his amazing recipe for golabki, which literally means little pigeon but gastronomically means sheer delight.

Ancient Polish myth suggests that King of Poland Casimir IV Jagiello, fed his army golabki before an important battle in the Thirteen Years War in the mid 1400s. The story is that the army’s subsequent victory was attributed to strength garnered from the special meal.

As the Polish saying goes, Jedzcie, pijcie i popuszczajcie pasa! ‘(Eat, drink, and loosen your belt!)

Executive Chef Don Zajac’s Golabki

Makes about 18


1 whole head green cabbage
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons butter
1-pound ground beef
1/2-pound ground pork
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup beef stock
1 cup tomato puree
1 cup tomato juice
Sour cream for garnish


Heat oven to 350ºF.

  1. Remove core from cabbage. Place whole head in a large pot filled with boiling, salted water. Cover and cook 3 minutes, or until softened enough to pull off individual leaves.
  2. When leaves are cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to cut away the thick center stem from each leaf, without cutting all the way through.
  3. Chop the remaining cabbage and place it in the bottom of a casserole dish or Dutch oven.
  4. Sauté the chopped onion in butter in a large frying pan until tender and let it cool.
  5. Mix cooled onions with beef, pork, rice, garlic, salt and black pepper until well combined. Don’t overmix or the meat will become tough.
  6. Place about 1/2 cup of meat on each cabbage leaf. Roll away from you to encase the meat. Flip the right side of the leaf to the middle, and then flip the left side. You will have something that looks like an envelope. Once again, roll away from you to create a neat little roll.
  7. Place the cabbage rolls on top of the chopped cabbage in the casserole dish or Dutch oven, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Combine the beef stock, tomato puree and tomato juice, then, pour rolls, cover and place in oven. Bake for 1 hour or until cabbage is tender and meat is cooked.
  8. Serve with pan juices and a drizzle of sour cream or mix the pan juices with sour cream and ladle it over the cabbage rolls.
  9. Cabbage rolls freeze well before or after cooking and can be made in a slow cooker.