Well Ladies and Gentlemen,
What looked like a failed cooking afternoon turned around unexpectedly into a success story. The Sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls) turned out as it should – the rolls didn’t fall apart, they remained stiff, retaining their initial shape, the taste was full of cabbage flavor with a flagrant tomatoe aroma. One thing that I should have added more was salt. But better less than over-salted.
Cabb ‘n’ Roll Challenged
Forming the rolls was by far the most difficult task from this recipe. The cabbage leaves were very sturdy even if I froze the cabbage for about 24 hours. I used two kind of cabbage types – regular and savoy cabbage, a variety that has curled and crinkled leaves in a compact head. I had to remove the harder stem part of the leave to make rolling possible.
I thing I need a couple lessons from the ladies in Romania like the one in the video here. Just look at the dexterity she is using to roll the sarmale!
Of course the secret lies in making sarmale with brine pickled cabbage. Beside the fact that the leaves become tender without ripping apart, the pickling ads extra flavor to the whole mix.
Adapted Sarmale Recipe
I had to learn the hard way to put up my hopes for a certain dish to taste like in my native land. And of course the main issue having all to do with the way ingredients, legumes, fruits and ultimately meat is grown in America where the agricultural industry is driven by much show but less taste. More on this subject, read Organic America.
I compiled a recipe after reading through a couple different ones from several sources. Obviously I tried to reflect the authentic way of cooking sarmale or at least how I remember it. Plan on usually doing a huge amount. Sarmale get tastier with age in the fridge. Here we go:
1 Lb ground pork
1 Lb ground veal or beef
1 Large onion minced
1 cup rice (white)
1 can tomatoe sauce (non-spiced)
2 cloves garlic
1 Tb paprika
1 Tsp freshly ground pepper
1½ Tsp salt
1 Tbs marjoram
1 Lb sauerkraut
4-5 sprigs of fresh dill or parsley
1-2 bay leaves (imported)
1 Tbs canola oil
6 cups chicken broth (home made)
Some of you are probably frantically looking for the comment button to let me know that I forgot one key element for the sarmale recipe – the smoked bacon! I was aware but willingly omitted that since my wife doesn’t necessarily likes the smoke flavor in the mix.
The procedure is very simple. In a large pan, sautee the minced onion and garlic with the oil for about 5 minutes, add the paprika and take off the heat. Add this to a large mixing bowl together with the ground pork, veal (or beef), rice, ground pepper, salt marjoram, half of the dill chopped and mix well.
Lay a bed of sauerkraut (about 1 inch) on the bottom of a large pot (preferably cast iron for optimal heat transfer and distribution), add 2-3 sprigs of dill and build a surrounding wall out of your stuffed cabbage rolls, by placing them seam down and pointing to the center.
Fill up the center space with the remaining rolls, sprinkle about 1 tsp salt, pepper to taste, add the bay leaves, 3-4 sprigs of dill, and add the remaining sauerkraut on the top. Don’t top the pot to the rim like I did because the rice will expand while cooking pushing the entire sarmale up. Leave about one inch to the rim. Add the tomato sauce and broth making sure that the liquid level comes up to the top level of rolls. Bring it to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Boil it for the next 4 hours.
Legend says that the more you keep the sarmale in the fridge, the better it will become! It is true! The next day they were more tender and full of flavor!
My next step will be making real sauerkraut! I called my Dad in Romania and he gave me precious advice! Hopefully I won’t stink up our whole basement!