Cabbage sarma is one of my favorite dishes from the Serbian cuisine. Off course, it’s not only present in the Serbian gastronomy, but across the entire Balkan peninsula and it’s areas of influence. It is also known as sarmale. However, recipes tend to vary from country to country, and from home to home. In Serbia, sarma is also made with chard and rarely vine leaves (last recipe originating from Greece), but the main variant is the one with cabbage.
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Serves: 8-10, Preparation time: 1h preparation + 4h cooking
- 1,5 -2 kg pickled cabbage leaves (1 larger cabbage)
- 1/2 kg (1lb) of minced pork meat or ground beef
- 200-300 g ribs, bacon or other smoked meat
- 1 larger onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 100 g rice
- 1 egg
- salt, cayenne pepper, vegeta and black pepper to taste
- Oil (to cover the bottom of the pot)
Before you start [cca 30 min]
- Wash the rice and leave it for about half an hour in the water (to gain volume).
- Wash the cabbage leaves (sometimes very sour and of unpleasant smell) and separate them into those large enough for the sarma, and the rest for covering the layers.
Preparation of the filling [cca 15 min]
Heat the oil and fry the onion until it becomes golden. Stir in the ground meat, the garlic cut in tiny pieces and the spices to taste. It should be like the dry version of the Bolognese sauce, only stronger (because water is added at a later stage). When the meat is nearly done, add the rice and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove from fire and stir in an egg.
Preparing the sarma [cca 20 min]
- In a large pot put enough oil to cover the bottom. Cover the bottom with some of the remaining cabbage leaves to prevent burning.
- Place a leaf on a wide enough plate, cut the hard part so it becomes more flexible, and turn around. Fill with one spoon of the filling mass, and roll, tucking the sides of the leaf to close the sarma.
- Place each sarma in the same level until you fill the first layer. Add some of the smoked meat, and cover that layer with some more spare leaves.
Repeat this procedure until you’ve placed all the sarmas (should be between 15 and 20, depending on the number and quality of the leaves). Don’t worry if you haven’t got enough spare leaves to cover all levels, but try to leave a few for the final layer.
Finally fill in with water to cover all the levels and slightly more.
Cooking [3-4 hours]
Bring it to a boil and reduce fire to remain barely boiling (2-3 of 6) and cook slowly for about 3-4 hours. Some people leave it overnight, but at a smaller temperature. If necessary, add water and taste to see if you need more spices. While some make it dryer, I prefer the soup that’s left with the sarmas.
Baking [IMHO totally unnecessary, about 1-2 hrs]
In Serbia many people traditionally bake the sarma in the oven after cooking it, but I avoid that last step and it tastes better to me without it.
Sarma is usually served with pavlaka (natural or Greek yogurt). Many eat it with garlic.