Stuffed cabbage rolls. Sarmale. Pork mince stuffed cabbage leaves.
To say that most Romanians consider the stuffed cabbage rolls to be a traditional Romanian dish is an understatement.
Found all over the Balkans, Greece and Turkey, Russia, Hungary and Poland, stuffed with rice, beef and pork.
Romanians made this this their own a long time ago. The cabbage is stuffed mainly with a pork, onions and rice mixture, seasoned with black pepper and thyme, sometimes (in different regions) with dill.
And to make it even better, they add lots of smoked meats to the pan. Ribs and pig knuckles, lardo and big pieces of smoked bacon.
Here, to make it my own, I’ve added it all. Even a piece of smoked sausage. For kicks.
- 1kg minced pork
- 2 small pickled cabbages
- 2 onions
- 1/2 cup of rice
- 500ml tomato passata
- salt, pepper, dried thyme, sweet paprika
- smoked meats, ribs, slabs of bacon, lardo, sausage (optional)
- sour cream or creme fraiche to serve
Prepare the meat mixture.
- In a drop of oil, soften the finely (as fine as you can get it) chopped onion for a few minutes, add the rice to the pan, mix well and just warm through. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.
- Mix the minced meat with the onion and rice, season with salt and black pepper, add thyme and sweet paprika.
Now the cabbage leaves.
- You’ll need pickled cabbage, whole cabbage heads preserved in brine. Specialised shops have this, but, it can also be found easily in Greek or Turkish shops, as leaves ready for stuffing in jars.
- Separate the leaves to be stuffed by peeling them gently from the cabbage head. Keep aside a couple of leaves for the end.
- Using a wet hand, take a little of the meat mixture and roll into a small sausage shape.
- Place it in the middle of a cabbage leaf and roll forward, tucking the sides in until you get a nice cabbage roll.
- Repeat until the meat mixture is finished.
Now for the cooking.
- It’s best to use a heavy cast iron pan for this, even a clay pot put in the oven, but let’s say any pan.
- Shred the “hearts” of cabbage left over and place on the bottom of the pan. Add some smoked pieces of meat and ribs, bacon, etc.
- Arrange the stuffed cabbage rolls in a neat layer. Repeat. Sprinkle with thyme in between and around. Whole peppercorns can also be added.
- Once done, add the tomato passata, some more thyme (cabbage and thyme are best friends) and cover the whole thing with the cabbage leaves you kept aside.
- Add water, almost to cover.
- Boil on a low fire, for at least 2 hours until the meat is tender and juicy, the rice has absorbed all the flavour and aromas from the pot, and the smoked meats have gone all soft and melt in the mouth.
Everyone likes a bit of smoked meat, so add a piece to the plate.
As tradition goes, the Romanians serve the stuffed cabbage rolls with sour cream or creme fraiche, and polenta, but bread works just as well.
And don’t forget about a small (or big) glass of plum brandy before the meal, as after, wine is what’s needed, and lots of it.
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.