Cabbage and mince meat “pie” layered with tomato sauce. Traditional “Varza a la Cluj”.
For this recipe “we travel” all the way deep into the middle of Transylvania.
I’m afraid that Dracula won’t be joining on this trip, as the town from which this recipe comes is quite a long distance from the Count’s lair.
If you’re ever in or around the town of Cluj-Napoca, in Transylvania, ask anyone for what’s traditional there.
They’ll guide you for sure to the place named “Varzarie” (The Cabbage place) to try this cabbage and mince meat dish.
- 800g cabbage
- 600g minced pork meat
- 120g rice
- 100-120g chopped onion
- 150ml tomato passata
- 75ml oil
- 1 large tomato (optional)
- salt, black pepper, thyme
- sour cream to serve
I’m calling it a “pie”, but really it’s a dish made from layers of cabbage and seasoned minced (ground) pork meat.
Wash the rice in cold water a few times. Round grain rice is best here, I’ve actually used risotto rice. Leave covered with water to stand for 15 minutes to half an hour.
Meanwhile, heat a little oil and add the diced onions. Fry until golden then add the minced pork meat to the pan. Season well with salt and pepper, add some dried (or fresh) thyme to taste. Cook the meat until done mixing from time to time, about 15-20 minutes. Set aside.
Cook the rice in 4-500ml of boiling water until almost done, then mix it (it can be hot) with the minced meat. (Drain off excess water from the rice if needed.)
Shred the cabbage in 5mm strips. Heat the remaining oil in a pan, add the cabbage and 100ml of water to create some steam. Salt and pepper to taste, again a touch of thyme.
Cook for about 20 minutes on a low heat until the cabbage is almost soft but retains a little bite.
Add a few drops of oil to a deep oven proof dish. Rub the oil around a bit. Now add half the tomato passata. Spread around in the bottom of the pan.
Follow with half of the cooked cabbage then all the meat, onions and rice mixture. Continue with the final layer of cabbage, then the rest of the passata. Slice and arrange a large tomato on the top if you wish.
Bake at 180C for around 30 to 45 minutes until nice and golden on the top, the edges start to caramelise and everything is steaming beautifully.
Must be served with a spoon or two of sour cream or creme fraiche, the much appreciated “smantana” in Romania.
Other popular recipes in this category:
- Best Romanian chicken paprikash with flour dumplings.
- Traditional cabbage rolls (sarmale) stuffed with minced pork and smoked meats.
- Chicken and noodles soup.