Sarma is a classic Croatian meal. It can be seen at many Croatian parties, especially weddings at the Croatian club. It’s very prevalent amongst Croats who come from the inland parts of the country. In actual fact, to be fair, sarma is cooked all over the old ottoman empire, originally invented by the Turks. Of course, they wouldn’t have used pork in their version. Essentially the name ‘sarma’ comes from the Turkish word “sarmak” which means ‘to wrap’.
The pickled cabbage leaves can be found at most delis and even a lot supermarkets these days. Here’s an example of one brand that is out there.
It pretty much tastes like sauerkraut so if you love sauerkraut you will love this almost certainly. If you don’t love the tanginess of sauerkraut, you can also use the stuffing and the method to stuff capsicums (peppers), zucchini, eggplant or any other vegetable you can think of.
Croatians serve sarma with olive oil mashed potatoes and I suggest that you do too. They’re perfect for soaking up all the sauce and turning this into a real winter comfort dish.
Here’s the thing: I’m sure I’m going to get people writing to me telling me that this is not how their mama or baka/baba makes sarma and therefore I am wrong. It’s like any dish really, there are so many versions that differ from house to house. I really like the way mine turns out and I think I’ve hit on a pretty easy and unfussy way to cook it.
The other great thing about sarma is that you have to cook a really big batch of it. There will most certainly be lots left over but this is great because you can freeze and defrost these really successfully. They’re also one of those things that taste better the next day. Let’s get rolling!
For the cabbage rolls
500g pork mince
500g veal mince
200g arborio rice
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
4 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons vegeta (vegetable stock powder)
pepper (or chilli flakes which are not traditional but I really love)
1/2 cup chopped continental parsley
1 big jar pickled cabbage (see picture)
For the sauce
1 L low salt chicken stock (or water)
1 can crushed tomatoes
400g smoked speck, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
a little extra stock or water
To make the meat stuffing, combine the pork, veal, rice, garlic, vegeta, pepper (or chilli flakes) and parsley with your hands until well mixed.
Take one leaf of cabbage and cut it in half through the middle rib. Place a couple of tablespoons of the meat mixture on one edge of the leaf and roll into a parcel, tucking in the edges as you go. Repeat until you’ve used all the cabbage and the stuffing.
Place each roll into a large pot or baking dish, packing them in tightly together. Take slices of speck and wedge these between the cabbage rolls. Pour the stock and crushed tomatoes over the rolls. There needs to be enough liquid to completely submerge all the cabbage roll, so add more water if necessary.
Cover with a tight fitting lid or foil and bake at 160 degrees celsius for 2 hours. Check half way through the cooking time. You may need to top up with a little more water to keep it moist.
In small frying pan over medium heat, place the oil, garlic, paprika and flour. Cook for 2-3 minutes to cook out the flour and then add enough stock or water to bring it to a thick cream consistency.
Pour this mixture into the sarma liquid and stir gently. Immediately the sauce will thicken. Bake, covered, for a further 20 minutes.
Remove the sarma from the oven and let it rest for about half an hour, then serve with mashed potato.