November 13, 2011

Sarma (Stuffed cabbage)

Sarma is a traditional winter preparation in Slovenia. At the end of autumn, the stores start selling sauerkraut and sour turnips. I remember the first time I had sauerkraut; the sour taste was a shock. Well I was not expecting the sour taste; I had never heard of sauerkraut and assumed it so be normal cabbage at the work canteen. However, now I really like the tartness. Sauerkraut is healthy and yummy. And goes so well with meat or salad. This preparation uses the whole head of sauerkraut. Each leaf is stuffed and tightly rolled with minced meat and then is slowly cooked in tomato-based gravy. A family food. Tastes better when cooked in bulk. You cannot really make 6! The time taken is not worth it. Also, it is one of those preparations that tastes best when cooked in bulk, and the same recipe used for a smaller quantity doesn’t bring out the same wow.. However, it is so good and stays for a few days. And the older it is the better it tastes!  Saves us from cooking later. Traditionally, it is cooked a couple of days before New Year. After the late night parties on New Year’s Eve, people wake up late the next day. And you have the yummy sarmas already ready on the table to enjoy with your family the first day of the year..

 You can print the recipe for your kitchen here: PRINTABLE RECIPE

(Makes around 35 sarma)

1 whole head of sauerkraut
500g beef
500g pork
1 big onion
100g rice
3 cubes of beef stock
1cup tomato puree
1sp thyme
1tbsp red pepper powder
2 ½ tbsp flour
2tbsp fresh parsley
1 slice of bacon (1cm thick, ~15g)
Boiling water (as required)


1.      Mince both the beef and pork meat. Finely chop the onion.
2.      In a wok, heat 6tbsp oil. Add the onion and cook for a minute.
3.      Add the minced meat and cook on high heat until it is no more pink and the water that the meat left dries.
4.      Reduce the heat to low. Cook for around 20 mins until the onion softens, mixes well with the meat and is almost no more visible.
5.      Add the rice and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 mins.
6.      Add ½ cup water and cook for 10 mins more.
7.      Add the fresh parsley. Remove from heat and let it cool a bit.
8.      Gently take a leaf off the sauerkraut head. Pound the stem a gently so that it becomes easy to fold. Put 1-1.5 spoon (depending on the size of leaf) of meat mixture at the base of the leaf and tightly fold from all sides. Set aside with the open side down. (There is no need to tie or seal.) Repeat the process with the leaves until the meat mixture is used.
9.      If there is still a bit of sauerkraut left, finely chop it. [Optional step.]
10.   Layer a large pot with chopped sauerkraut (Optional). Arrange the rolled sarmas in the pot in layers with the open side down. Cover the sarmas with hot water.
11.   Put the pot on medium heat and bring it to boil. Add two cubes of beef stock. Cook on low heat covered for ~ 40 minutes.
12.   In a pan, heat 4tbsp oil. Quickly stir in the flour and let it get color.
13.   Add 1cup tomato puree, thyme, red pepper powder and mix well.
14.   Add 3cups of hot water and 1 beef stock cube.
15.   Bring to boil and add the tomato gravy in the sarma pot.
16.   Add bay leaf, and bacon slice.
17.   Cover and cook on low heat for 30-40 min.
18.   Serve with polenta or mashed potato.

The bacon is used for giving flavor and smell (and not for eating really). A sausage can be used instead.
Sarma taste good (better!) the next day.
Freshly minced meat brings out best flavors.
There is no stirring during the whole cooking of the rolled sarmas, or they will open and break. Take care to keep on low heat all the time to avoid burning of the bottom.

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