Stuffed cabbage rolls are one of my favourite dishes. In Romania we call them “sarmale” and they are a very important part of our diet. Traditionally we eat them around Christmas, but they are not necessarily endemic to this particular time frame. The recipe is relatively easy, but there are a few tips and tricks to turn from normal to dreamy.
What do you need?
*a large pot: the rolls need to boil with other ingredients, so make sure you use a pot large enough for the contents not to burst out or lose liquid (and as a consequence, get burnt)
* minced meat with grease: depending on how many you want to make, you can go from 200-300 grams to 2 kilograms (roughly)
*a whole cabbage (raw or sauerkraut)or more: you can choose the cabbage considering how big you plan to make the rolls
*well-washed raw rice: use the rice to complete the meat – if you want less meat, you can put more rice and vice-versa
*smoked ham, a saussage and/or bacon: don’t worry, you won’t have to chew on them – if you don’t want to, it is just put there to enhance the flavour
*three big onions or more: again, depending on how many rolls you want to make
*spices: in Romania we traditionally use salt and pepper, but you can add whatever spice you like – as long as it doesn’t ruin the taste (I would recommend at least a small spoon of salt, which is essential in any food, even in sweets)
*dried thyme and/or dill: put it on the bottom of the pot – again the same as with spices, each cook with his/her own secret ingredients
*broth: again, for flavour, only to be added to sweet cabbage
*you can also add a little vinegar, but it’s not necessary
*you can use some grated green pepper to mix in the filling
Now that you have all your ingredients, you can start out your magic. We’ll start with the cabbange. If it’s raw, then you need to cut out its core and then scald it, perhaps with a little vinegar or whatever you know will enhance its taste and make it suitable to work with (you’ll need to wrap it around the filling, so make sure it’s not too thin and breakable). Then take each leaf separately and cut out its rough parts. If it’s sauerkraut, skip the scalding part. Put a couple of leaves aside to chop and put on top of the sarmale when you’re finished. Chop the onion into small pieces (you can also grate it) and then stir fry it, with whatever grease/oil you fry with and adding suitable spices (maybe a little bit of pepper) until it is soft (and yellow). You can now make the filling: take the meat, rice, the onion, the broth and spices and mix them in a bowl. When you are done with all these, you can pass to making the actual rolls. For each roll, you take a leaf of cabbage and roll it around enough filling to cover it all and then you roll around and close the sarma. Click here to see an example of the whole procedure, insisting especially on the way to roll the sarmale (the video is in Romanian, but there is not much talking/writing, so there is no problem to catch the main ideas/techniques). If you know Romanian you can check this, this or this links for more details, tricks and/or ideas.
We eat them with sour cream and bread (well, bread is very popular in Romanian cuisine, there are only a few dishes we do not accompany with bread). Remeber that stuffed cabbage rolls are very filling and if you eat too much, your stomach might not be happy. For that same reason, they’re a whole dish in themselves, so you won’t need to add anything else, unless you want to. From this point on, enjoy your food, or as we say in Romania, pofta buna!