”Sarmale“ - Sauerkraut meat rolls - the most specific Romanian dish

”Sarmale“ - Sauerkraut meat rolls -  the most specific Romanian dish
”Sarmale“ - Sauerkraut meat rolls - the most specific Romanian dish

A cabbage roll is a dish consisting of cooked cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings. It is common to the cuisines of the Balkans, Central, Northern, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran, as well as West Asia and Northern China.

Meat fillings are traditional in Europe, often beef, lamb, or pork seasoned with garlic, onion, and spices. Grains such as rice and barley, mushrooms, and vegetables are often included. Fermented cabbage leaves are often used for wrapping, particularly in southeastern Europe. In Asia, seafoods, tofu, and shiitake mushroom may also be used. Chinese cabbage is often used as a wrapping.

Cabbage leaves are stuffed with the filling which are then baked, simmered, or steamed in a covered pot and generally eaten warm, often accompanied with a sauce. The sauce varies widely by cuisine. Always in Sweden and sometimes in Finland, stuffed cabbage is served with lingonberry jam, which is both sweet and tart. In Eastern Europe, tomato-based sauces or plain sour cream are typical. In Lebanon, the cabbage is stuffed with rice and minced meat and only rolled to the size of a cigar. It is usually served with a side of yogurt and a type of lemon and olive oil vinaigrette seasoned with garlic and dried mint.

The version called holishkes is traditionally eaten by Jews on Simchat Torah; stuffed cabbage is described by Gil Marks to have entered Jewish cooking some 2,000 years ago. Recipes vary depending on region; Romanians and northern Poles prefer a savory sauce, while Galicia and Ukraine favor sweet-and-sour, for example. 

Sarmale are Romanian stuffed cabbage rolls traditionally served on Christmas and New Year's Eve but also served throughout the year at weddings, baptism parties, and other large celebrations. Ground pork is mixed with sauteed caramelized onions and rice stuffed in a cabbage leaf, pickled sauerkraut leaf or grape leaf. For flavor, they usually consist of layers with smoked pork fat, smoked ribs, or smoked sausage.

The Romanian sarmale is a versatile dish, and the best way of consuming is reheated the next day. The flavor is different with an enhanced flavor. It can be prepared with a tomato base, dill base or combination. Sweet shredded cabbage layers in between the rolls of pickled cabbage leaves or sauerkraut layers in between of sweet cabbage leaves. The taste is significant different but still a great dish.

Sarma (Turkish word "sarmak", meaning "to wrap"; Cyrillic: Сарма) is a dish of vine, cabbage, monk's rhubarb or chard leaves rolled around a filling usually based on a combination of grains, like bulgur or rice, and minced meat. It is found in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire from the Middle East to Southeastern Europe.

To cook sarmale, you will need: 

  • 300 gr. of pork 
  • 200 gr. of beef 
  • 100 gr. of rice 
  • 150 gr. of fat 
  • 150 gr. of onions 
  • 50 gr. of tomato sauce
  • 300 gr. of tomatoes 
  • sauerkraut 
  • pepper grains 
  • ground pepper 
  • cinnabar

Use the blender to mince the meat together with part of the diced onions, previously half fried. Add the rice (soaked in hot water), pepper and salt. Mix well and roll small balls into the thin sauerkraut leaves. Place the meat ball on one side of the leaf and then roll it tight so the meat will stay in. Slice part of the sauerkraut. Half fry the onions in fat, add tomato sauce and water. Stir well and add the sliced sauerkraut. Place some of it in the sauce on the bottom of a pot and then layers of meat rolls and sauerkraut in sauce. The first and last layer should always be sliced sauerkraut and sauce. For a sharper taste you can also add among the layers smoked bacon or finely diced ham, previously half fried. Cover with tomato slices, pepper grain and cinnnabar, then boil for 3-4 hours at low heat. Occasionally, rattle the pot to prevent from sticking and add hot water when necessary. Cover the pot and cook for another while in the heated oven, at low heat, when nearly ready take the lid off to get a nice crust. Make sure that there is always enough water. These meat rolls are better if you use fat meat (pork and beef together). If the sauerkraut is too salty or too sour, keep it in cold water before cooking. If, on the contrary, it is not salty or sour enough, use sauerkraut juice instead of water. For a better taste, add the water gradually and cook at low heat. Serve with corn mush.