Norwegian Medisterkaker with Surkal and a dollop of blackberry preserves

This month's recipe is Norwegian Medisterkaker with Surkal. Medistarkakar are pork meatballs or patties, and Surkal is a cabbage and apple sauerkraut. Both are relatively easy to make and use easy-to-find ingredients.

The Participant Observer Recipe of the Month is for Polish Gołąbki, aka stuffed cabbage rolls. A relatively easy dish to prepare, Gołąbki can be eaten as a snack or as a main course.

Few culinary concoctions are as wide-spread as stuffed cabbage rolls. Gołąbki is one of the national dishes of Poland, but stuffed cabbage leaves can be found in much of Eastern, Central Europe, Turkey, Galacia, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Western Asia, North Africa, Scandinavia, China, Korea, Japan, South America and many many other places. Indeed, if you Google a country or culture name along with "stuffed cabbage", you are likely to find a recipe! Stuffed cabbage rolls known as holishkes (or prakas) are often enjoyed by Eastern European Jews and their descendants, particularly for the seven-day autumn harvest festival known as Succoth (in remembrance of the Exodus). It is possible that stuffed cabbage rolls existed in Jewish cooking as long ago as 2,000 years ago, but the immense geographic distribution suggests multiple independent inventions. However, nowhere else are stuffed cabbage rolls as quintessential to a cultural cuisine as they are in Poland. "GoÅ‚Ä…bki" (pronounced "go-woomp-kee") means "little pigeons" in Polish and the same metaphor to describe them is used in Russia and Ukraine. There is also a Polish village named GoÅ‚Ä…bki. Dolmathes are the Greek version of this idea, using grape leaves instead of cabbage leaves. In Poland and Russia, fermented cabbage leaves are sometimes used instead of boiled leaves.

While the type of cabbage is dictated by what is locally available, the ingredients found in the stuffing and accompanying sauce varies. Rice is frequently used, but barley is also used. Generally, lamb, pork or ground beef is used as a protein. The dish is made savory by the addition of onions and garlic and spices are often limited to salt, pepper and perhaps an aromatic herb. A simple tomato sauce is most often used, but they can be eaten with sour cream or plain. The filling is often "bound" with raw egg, making it more solid than crumbly.

Cook's notes:

  • There are two main ways of cooking Gołąbki, either by boiling them or baking them. If you boil them, you can use uncooked rice; if you bake them you need to cook the rice first. Once source claims that the oldest technique was baking them.
  • Eggs are typically used as a binder, but if you can't eat or don't like eggs, you can use 1 cup of tomato puree.
  • GoÅ‚Ä…bki freeze well. They can be microwaved, steamed or fried after thawing.
  • Like so many other savory dishes, Gołąbki taste better the next day after the flavors fully develop.



  • 1 large head of cabbage (3 pounds)
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1/2 pound of ground pork
  • (optional, if not used add 1/2 pound more of ground beef)
  • 2 large eggs
  • Olive oil or butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice (white or brown) cooked "al dente" (in other words, not completely soft)
  • 1 tablespoon crushed or chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried ground marjoram
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup beef or chicken stock (or cabbage water)


  1. Core the cabbage head (cut a conical piece out of the bottom, penetrating about a 1/3 of the way into the cabbage).
  2. Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil.
  3. Add the whole cabbage (cored side down) , cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for 8 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cabbage to a large pot of cold water to cool it. Note: do not throw out the water it was cooked in; you might need it.
  5. Gently peel of the leaves of the cabbage one by one. Note: you may have to re-boil the inner part of the cabbage to make the leaves sufficiently pliable.
  6. With a sharp knife shave down the central vein on the outside (convex side)of each individual leaf to match the thickness of the rest of the leaf. Note: the outer leaves are not as good to use as the inside leaves, and the veins in the inside leaves are less pronounced. Save any leaves you don't use in making the rolls.
  7. Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium high heat until they are either translucent or browned.
  8. Mix in the crushed garlic and sauté for an additional minute.
  9. Transfer the onions and garlic to a large mixing bowl to cool.
  10. After the onions and garlic are cooled (10 minutes) mix the rice, ground beef, marjoram, parsley, salt, and 2 eggs. Do not overmix.
  11. Lay a leaf a single cabbage leaf down with the edges curled up (inside concave side).
  12. Spoon the filling onto the edge closest to you. Roll the edge of the leaf until the leaf covers the filling, then fold in the sides and continue rolling.
  13. The amount of filling for each roll varies according to the size of leaf. The desirable target is a roll that is about 6 inches wide and 2 inches thick.
  14. Make tomato sauce by combining 1 cup of tomato puree, 1 cup of cabbage water or stock, and salt and pepper to taste.
  15. Placed cabbage rolls in a dutch oven or oven pan. You may need to do this in layers depending on the size of your pan. Pour tomato sauce over the rolls and blanket everything with the leftover cabbage leaves.
  16. cover the pan with a lid or tightly with aluminum foil.
  17. Bake the Gołąbki at 350 F for 1 hour.
  18. Remove Gołąbki from the oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes.
  19. Serve with rye bread.


Recipe by T. Johnston-O'Neill
Photos by Shari K. Johnston-O'Neill


We return to Thailand for this month's recipe and one of my favorite soups, Tom Kha. This delicious soup is a standard offering in nearly all Thai restaurants; once you gather all the proper ingredients, it is very easy to prepare.

The Participant Observer Recipe of the Month is for Japanese Gyudon (牛丼 - literally "beef bowl") with Onsen Tamago. A beef version of "donburi", it is easy to make and checks all the boxes for a quick comfort food!




Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the 6th century. One of the early precepts of Japanese Buddhism was the prohibition of eating meet. Prior to that time, people in Japan ate wild boar, deer or domesticated pigs. In 675CE the Emperor Tenmu banned eating meat altogether. A full one thousand years later during the Edo Period (1603-1868), meat eating re-entered Japanese culture in the form of cures for various ailments. In 1852-3, just prior to the end of the Edo Period, American Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan during a time when the country was extremely isolationist. He was ordered to force open trade with the Japanese, but the Japanese rebuffed him, biding him to return a year later to learn the Japanese official response to Perry's proposal to establish trade relations. He returned in only 6 months with 10 warships and 1600 men to force the issue under the theory of "manifest destiny". A series of missteps ensued, but on March 31, 1954, the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed, establishing trade relations. Subsequently, there was a move to re-instate the emperor to power, resulting in the Meji Restoration. Japanese warily embraced aspects of Western culture, and in 1872, it was announced that the Emperor himself had eaten beef, and there was an official campaign to promote meat eating to increase the health and physical stature of Japanese citizens (particular soldiers). It was thought this could be achieved through daily consumption of meat as was the custom in the West. Eventually a form of beef hotpot, Gyū-nabe, became quite popular in Japanese restaurants of the time. By 1877 there were nearly 600 restaurants in Toyko alone that specialized in beef dishes. Gyudon is the precursor to the more elaborate Sukiyaki, both employing a sauce made from soy sauce (shoyu), fermented rice wine (mirin), higher alcohol rice wine(sake), sugar and bonito stock (dashi). One website has dubbed the gyudon as "Japans most fool-proof dish." The dish typically employs relatively inexpensive cuts of beef (ribeye or chuck) making it a cheap meal (under $5), however, the Origami restaurant in Tokyo sells Waygu beef version using Waygu beef that costs $50 a bowl.

The first restaurant in Japan to specialize exclusively in gyudon was Yoshinyo at the Tokyo Nihonbashi fish market which began serving in 1899. It may have been the first instance of Japanese fast-food and was then called Gyumeshi (beef rice). Today, Yoshinoya operates a large chain of gyudon restaurants in Asia and the United States including several in the San Diego area. But the largest chain—over 2,000 outlets—specializing in gyudon is Sukiya, with restaurants throughout Asia, and in Brazil and Mexico.


Gyudon requires thinly sliced beef (round, ribeye or chuck). You can buy pre-cut beef for it at Asian markets, use beef sliced for Philly Cheesesteaks or slice the beef yourself. If you decide to do your own slicing, it is highly advantageous to slice partially frozen beef which will allow you to make the thinnest slices.

Onsen Tamago is a Japanese-style poached egg. "Osen" is a Japananes hot spring, but the word also refers to country hot spring spas. Traditionally "osen eggs" were cooked in the hot water from a hot spring. However, you can easily approximate them at home. Put 2 to 3 (depending on how many servings you desire) in a pot. Fill the pot with boiling water and cover for 20 minutes. If not using the eggs immediately, drop them in a bath of ice water. Some people forego poaching the egg, preferring it raw, and others like them sunny-side up. But in all cases, a runny yolk is desirable.

This recipe calls for the common Japanese fish broth known as dashi which is used in a number of different dishes including miso shiro soup. It can be made a variety of way, 1. By briefly simmering katsuobushi fish flakes and a piece of Konbu seaweed, (see the link for miso shiro below). 2. Use dashi "tea bags" (very convenient) or 3. most commonly from a packet of powered hondashi soup stock.

If you use sweet sake you might try reducing the sugar in the recipe to a teaspoon.

Beni-shoga (red pickled ginger) and Shichimi Togarahi powder can be bought in an Asian or Japanese market, although some non-specialty supermarkets have one or both. Shichi is "seven" in Japanese and Shichi-mi Togarahi is a 7-flavor blend of powdered chili, roasted and powdered orange rind, ground sansho (Japanese "pepper"), black and white sesame seeds, hemp seed, ground dry ginger, powdered nori (seaweed) and poppy seed.

Lastly, in Japan gyudon is almost always served with a bowl of Miso Shiru soup, a recipe for which can be found here.


  • 1/2 pound (225g) thinly shaved beef ribeye or chuck steak (see note)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 cup homemade dashi, or the equivalent in Hondashi (see note)
  • 1/4 cup dry sake
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced daikon (Japanese radish) - optional
  • 2 - 3 raw eggs (don't break)
  • 2 cups Japanese short grain rice
  • Beni-shoga (red pickled ginger)
  • Shichimi Togarashi mixed chili pepper powder


  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil to prepare the eggs.
  2. Place eggs (not shelled yet!) in a medium pot, fill will boiling water and cover. Set timer for 20 minutes and read note above.
  3. Prepare the rice according to package directions.
  4. Slice the onion into thin crescents.
  5. Slice the daikon into thin slices. (optional)
  6. In a medium-size pan, combine the onion, daikon, sake, soy sauce, sugar and dashi and bring to a simmer.
  7. Simmer ingredients for 5 minutes stirring frequently.
  8. Mix in the sliced beef and simmer for an additional 5 minutes, again stiff frequently.
  9. If the mixture starts to get dry, add some water or bonito stock to the pot.
  10. Add sliced ginger and cook for an additional minute. (note, adding the ginger at the end will retain its "kick".)
  11. Serve over cooked Japanese short grain rice. (makes 2 - 3 bowls)
  12. Break an onsen egg over each bowl.
  13. Garnish with Beni-shoga and a light dusting of Shichimi Togarashi powder.*


Recipe by T. Johnston-O'Neill
Photos by Shari K. Johnston-O'Neill
Some historical information summarized from Yoshoko Roots Story (Plenus "kome" Academy).
* Note: We forgot to sprinkle the Shichimi Togarshi on before we took the photos!
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