there is nothing more satisfying than a good bunch of stuffed cabbage rolls. this is a typical Romanian traditional dish, usually served on special occasions (Christmas, New Year’s or parties) and is commonly known as “sarmale”.

one can actually stuff different types of leaves, including wine leaves. the stuffed cabbage rolls concept is rather simple: roll minced meat in leaves of cabbage and boil them together with smoked meat until soft.

if you have pickled cabbage that’s great and if you don’t, you can buy it at the super market; you need the full cabbage leaves, so careful not to buy already cut ones. if you cannot find picked cabbage, you can also use a fresh one and boil the leaves in salt and vinegar (1 tea cup of white vinegar, 1 tbs salt and 1 liter of water) for a few minutes, until softened.

we need minced meat and preferably more than one type; perhaps a mix of porc, beef and lamb is best, but you can also use just one or two types…to your taste, liking and preference. add chopped onion and white rice and mix well. you can spice it to taste with salt and pepper; add a bit of oil if the meat is too dry. just like meat balls, grab small fists of the mix and roll it in a cabbage leaf (make sure you cut the cabbage middle nerve out if it is too thick, otherwise it is difficult to roll it. the remainder of cabbage (usually the small leaves & heart) can be sliced down in small pieces.

start arranging the rolls in a boiling pot (ceramic is ideal) as follows: a layer of small pieces of cabbage, than one of rolls , then a few pieces of smoked bacon or any type of smoked meat and some bay leaves and fresh pepper. continue the building the layers in this sequence until all the rolls are nicely arranged. add some tomato sauce and water just enough to cover everything . bring the pot to boil and then let it simmer for a couple of hours.

how do I know when it is finished? simple. try with a fork one of the small pieces of cabbage and when soft, you’re ready to serve! and make sure you serve it correctly with polenta or bread (I prefer simply with bread, but that’s just me), sour cream on top and a chilli pepper. one portion usually counts about 3-5 rolls depending on their size…but yet again, I had some friends over, a few weeks back, on Romania’s national day (Dec 1st) and some had up to 8 on the plate. rich food!

Romanians always drink a shot of palinca (eau de vie in FR or schnaps in DE) before this beautiful dish!

Ingredients – serves 4-6

1 medium size cabbage (pickled or fresh)

500 g of minced meat

1 big white onion

a hand full of white rice

smoked meat or bacon or similar

tomato sauce

salt and pepper

sour cream

chilli pepper

bread

bay leaves