Sarmale (Romanian Stuffed Cabbage or Grape Leaves Rolls)

This dish takes a lot of time preparing it.  The results are absolutely amazing and well worth the work!  I usually make it at Christmas time.  It can be done with either cabbage or grape leaves.  I prefer the cabbage because cost wise is less expensive than the grape leaves (unless you own a  vine and you can pick up the leaves for free ).  One very important note is to use salt brined sauerkaut.  Don't use the kind brined in vinegar or you will ruin the dish! 
This dish can be done either in the crock pot (which I prefer) or over the stove.  If you do it over the stove, you have to cook the rolls at a low temperature, shaking the pot every 30 minutes or so, to prevent the rolls from sticking to the bottom.  Most Romanians eat this dish with a side of plain cornmeal mush and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt on top.  Enjoy!
- 3 heads of cabbage OR grape leaves-I usually buy two of the tall narrow jars
-½ cup uncooked white rice
-4 tsp oil, divided
-1 onion, chopped
-1 lb ground beef
-1 lb ground pork
-salt and pepper to taste (about 1 Tbs each)
-4 Tbs tomato paste, divided
-1 (16 oz bag) sauerkraut brined in salt OR 1-2 cups lemon juice, if using cabbage leaves (not if you make it with grape leaves!)
Cut the core off each cabbage head. Fill a large bowl with boiled water and soak the grape leaves/cabbage in it until soft enough to roll and ready to use.  Soak the rice in water for about 15 minutes.
In small  saute pan pour 1 Tbs (3 tsp) oil and cook the chopped onion until translucent.  Set it aside and let it cool.
In a large bowl mix the ground meat, cooled onion, drained rice, and salt & pepper. Mix VERY well.
Prepare the pot (whether regular or crock pot) you're going to use to cook the sarmale.  Pour 1 tsp oil on the bottom.  Then mix two Tbs tomato paste with 1/2 a cup water.  Pour it over the oil and try to mix it a little bit, but not too much.  If using the cabbage, pour 1 cup of the sauerkraut on top of the oil mixture.
Drain the water from the grape leaves/cabbage.  Take one leaf (either grape or cabbage), cut the stem (the hard part), fill it with about 2-3 Tbs meat mixture, and wrap the leaf around the meat (just as you would wrap a spring roll).  Put the roll in the prepared pot and form circles with the rolls.  Repeat with the rest of the leaves and meat. 
When done, if using the cabbage, place remaining sauerkraut on top of sarmale.  Make again the tomato paste mix and pour it on top.  If using grape leaves, fill the pot with water, so that the sarmale are covered.  If using cabbage, fill a quarter of the pot with warm water.  Pour the sauerkraut liquid or lemon juice on top, so that the liquid covers all the sarmale.  Turn on the stove to low-medium heat and cook for 5-6 hours, until the meat is cooked through and the leaves are nice and soft enough to cut them with a fork.  Remember to shake the pot every 30 minutes or so, so that they don't stick to the bottom.  If using the crock pot, set it on low and cook for 12-15 hours.
**Note: IF you're lucky enough to find already brined cabbage leaves, skip the step where you dip them in hot water.  Also, don't add the sauerkraut with its liquid or the lemon juice.


Nicole said…
You are awesome! I've enjoyed reading your blog and noting the recipes - especially Romanian ones, but others too - that I plan to make. We always use your garlic, butter salmon recipe. Thanks!!
Ioana said…
Thank you so much, Nicole! I'm so glad you like the recipes. That salmon is my go to recipe. We LOVE it. :)