Kaalikääryleet (Golly Gadders or Finnish Stuffed Cabbage)

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Stuffed cabbage, in one form or another, is a common dish in many different cultures. There are dozens of variations that stem from Eastern European countries. In France, it is known as chou farci. In Finland, where my father’s family comes from, Kaalikäälryeet.

Many generations of Haapaniemis have made this recipe. It was only the more recent Upper Peninsula-based ones that took the word from Kaalikäälryeet to ‘Golly Gadders’ – a true Midwestern transformation from ‘kaali-kääl’ to ‘kolly kal,’ all the way to ‘Golly Gadders.’

Whatever its name, this is a loved staple in our family. The recipe is really a sort of peasant food, which would have traditionally been made to feed large families; cheap, hearty, easy-to-grow cabbage could be stretched a long way, rice helped bulk up the meat, and strong spices gave plenty of flavor. In its simplicity, it is perfect, and utterly comforting.

When prepping the cabbage for this recipe, some leaves will probably fall apart and tear - that’s okay. Tuck all of your rolls snug into the baking dish and they will hold their shape as they cook.

Kaalikääryleet (Golly Gadders or Finnish Stuffed Cabbage)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 green cabbage, outer leaves removed (about 20 leaves)

1 pound ground beef

1/2 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh marjoram or oregano, chopped

1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped

1/2 cup brown rice, cooked

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Fill a large stockpot with water. Bring to a roaring boil. In batches, blanch cabbage leaves for 30-60 seconds until soft; do not overcook. Transfer to a kitchen towel to dry and cool. Using a paring knife, remove tough middle ribs from cabbage leaves and discard.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add beef. Sauté until browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large mixing bowl. Discard pan juices and add remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, white pepper, and salt. Sauté until soft, 5 minutes.

Butter a large baking dish. Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Add onion mixture, rice, marjoram, and thyme to beef. Toss to combine. Arrange 2 or 3 leaves in a pile, creating as much surface area as possible but leaving plenty of overlap. Scoop a large spoonful of the beef mixture into the center. Wrap leaves around beef to form a secure package; transfer to baking dish. Continue until all beef is used up and your baking dish is full.

Using a pastry brush, lightly coat tops of rolls with maple syrup. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour; remove foil and bake until cabbage is crispy and brown, 30 more minutes. Serve immediately.