If you like fermented food you have probably heard of sauerkraut. When you translate it from German, it means sour cabbage. But sauerkraut is not any sour cabbage, it usually refers to the shredded cabbage that is pickled and fermented. In a similar way, you can prepare the whole cabbage and not just the shredded one. The advantage of a regular sour cabbage over sauerkraut, is that you can use the whole leaves of sour cabbage. And of course, you can always cut the sour cabbage in small ribbons and make a sauerkraut salad or any other sauerkraut dish.
One very popular dish that is made with sour cabbage, especially in winter, are stuffed cabbage rolls, also known as Serbian (Croatian) sarma. Since I am Serbian, I was very pleased to find out that many food blogs in English share recipes for making sarma. It was interesting to see how people who live in other countries make my national dish. I realized that many of these recipes I encountered, have included some ingredients that we never put in sarma, or the way of cooking is totally wrong. With that in mind, I have decided to share with you a real Serbian sarma recipe.
Before I start with the recipe, I want to point out that it is not my intention to offend other bloggers and say that their recipes are not good. I am sure those twisted sarma recipes are also good, but if you are interested to learn to cook real Serbian sarma, here’s what you need to know.
Ingredients you shouldn’t put in stuffed cabbage rolls aka “sarma”
The real sarma recipe doesn’t include these ingredients:
- Tomato sauce
- Sauerkraut (shredded cabbage)
- Bay leaves
The problem with these traditional dishes is that every woman slightly changes the recipe, by adding smaller or bigger amounts of one ingredient, or excluding one ingredient completely. If you try stuffed cabbage rolls in different places in the Balkans, you may conclude that not all sarma dishes have exactly the same ingredients. Some people don’t put rice in sarma, or put more meat than others. Other don’t put rice at all or don’t use the round rice. There are varieties of choices, you can play with but the ingredients mentioned above shouldn’t be included in sarma.
The real stuffed cabbage rolls (sarma) recipe is here!
Finally, here is a list of ingredients you should put in sarma:
- Minced meat
- Round rice
- Salt, pepper
That’s all! Of course, there are additional things you can include, but not inside the cabbage rolls. You can add side ingredients such as ribs or smoked meat later when you bake sarma, anywhere between the rolls or on the top.
Here is my sarma recipe:
- 300gr ground beef
- 200gr ground pork
- 4 big onions
- 5 cloves of garlic
- One handful of parsley
- 1 big carrot
- 100 gr round rice
- Sour cabbage, one head
How to cook stuffed cabbage rolls (sarma)
- Peel and chop onions and garlic. Put them in a big frying pan on a medium heat. You can use lard or oil. Stir all the time until softened, don’t let the garlic and onions burn.
- Peel and grate the carrot and add it in a pan.
- Wash and chop parsley and also add it to the pan.
- When the carrots get soft a bit, add ground meat and stir. Do not add water yet, the meat will release its juices. If the meat starts to burn, turn down the temperature a bit.
- Add salt, pepper, paprika. One teaspoon of each spice should be enough but later on you will see, if the sarma is too pale, add more paprika.
- When the meat is slightly cooked, add the rice that was previously washed and dried and let it cook for another 15 to 20 minutes on a medium heat. When the filling is cooked, leave it aside to cool down a bit.
- Prepare the cabbage leaves. The best way is to cut the cabbage and choose the best leaves, and wash them a bit.
- Now comes the rolling part. Take one cabbage leaf and put a filling in it. Put enough filling so you can roll the cabbage. Some leaves are big than other so will not put the same amount of filling in every leaf. If the leaves start to crack, maybe the filling is too hot and you should wait a few more minutes.
- Turn the oven on 200 degrees and place the stuffed cabbage rolls in it. Now fill the pan with water so all the rolls are covered. If the water is too pale, add more paprika. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and poke it with a toothpick on several places. Bake for one hour.
- Remove the foil and bake 10 more minutes on 18 degrees or until the stuffed cabbage rolls are golden.
You should put all the cabbage rolls in a deep pan so you can add water later. If you put cabbage rolls in one layer, just continue and lay other rolls on the top. Don’t forget to put some ribs or smoked meat between the rolls if you like more meat flavours. If the meat is raw you can cook it beforehand and then put it in the oven together with sarma.
On the top of everything, put more cabbage leaves. These leaves will prevent sarma to burn. When the leaves get dark, you can remove them and bake sarma just until it’s become golden.
What can go wrong?
Not tasty enough. Maybe you didn’t put too much seasoning. In that case, mix another cup of seasoning, adding more salt, paprika or pepper and combine it with water. Add a cup of water in the deep pan together with sarma and bake it in the oven for 10 minutes on 200 degrees. You will see, every time you heat the sarma again, it will be even better.
There’s too much food. If that’s too much sarma for you, just freeze it and use it again in a few weeks. You can freeze it baked but it is better to freeze raw sarma rolls and bake next time. When the time comes to thaw the frozen sarma, leave it on a room temperature.
Rice is raw. This rarely happens, if you put bad quality rice and didn’t cook it long enough, it may be crunchy, but still eatable.
Can I add different ground meat? The answer is yes. For the best and original flavor you should use pork and beef, but you can use only one type of meat as well. You can even use chicken minced meat, but it won’t be so tasty as the original sarma recipe.