Croatian-Inspired Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Sarma)

Croatian-Inspired Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Sarma)

I was busy in the garden most of the day, and we had the most beautiful cabbages in the garden that we distributed through our produce membership share plan. I knew I wanted to do something special for Robert and myself. There is a stuffed cabbage dish he talked about his family making called Sarma. I went online and came across many versions of this traditional Croatian dish and was confused about how to approach it. So I immediately called my mother-in-law Violet, and she explained about first sauteeing onions and garlic together. Then she talked about the ingredients in the filling and how it is rolled in Sour Cabbage. She explained that she puts the Cabbage Rolls in a large pot and cooks it for an hour. My head is spinning at this point. There is no store within an hour of here where I can get this lacto-fermentation whole-head cabbage from. This stubborn German girl's mind was made up to make this dish. I decided to add that flavor component by adding Sauerkraut.

This dish has many traditional Croatian components of Sarma, but there is no way I can call it that. Robert loved the dish and would never complain about having a meal made with love put in front of him. I posted the completed dish and a few preparation photos on Social Media. My mother-in-law complimented me as her "Student." She was proud of my attempt, and I was glad to get something complete with the ingredients I could access. It was very tasty, but next time in Chicago, we will pick up Sour Cabbage for the real Sarma Robert's family is known for making. Or Robert and I will make a batch on our own. We will leave it at that and save that for another time.

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  • 1 Medium to large head of dense cabbage
  • 1 Medium to large yellow onion diced
  • 2 Cloves garlic minced
  • 6 oz Smoked meat: we used bacon (Speck)
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 lb Each of ground pork and beef
  • 1/2 Cup rice, we selected arborio
  • 1/2 Cup Sauerkraut
  • 1 Cup stock: we used beef bone broth
  • 1/2 Teaspoon each salt and pepper

  1. Set your oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  2. Select a cooking pot that fits the cabbage head. Add enough water to fill the pot 3/4 of the way and bring it to a rolling boil.
  3. To prepare your cabbage leaves for stuffing, place the whole cabbage head into boiling water for a few seconds. Remove it from the water and carefully place it on a dish towel. Gently remove a few of the outer leaves from the cabbage, cutting each leaf at the base of the stem to make the process easier. Set aside the leaves for later use. This process will make the leaves soft and make it easier to make your rolls.
  4. Repeat the above process until you have enough leaves to make the desired number of rolls you want to prepare. We made 16 cabbage rolls.
  5. Sauté your diced onion in a teaspoon of olive oil until it becomes translucent. Then add the minced garlic and sauté another minute. Turn off the burner and allow the mixture to cool.
  6. Dice your Speck (smoked meat). If the smoked meat has a rind, cut that off and discard it. Place the Speck into a large mixing bowl.
  7. Add ground meat, cooled onion mixture, rice, eggs, sauerkraut, salt, and pepper to a bowl. Mix gently with your hands to avoid toughness.
  8. Select a large baking dish to place your cabbage rolls into.
  9. Scoop up the meat mixture with an ice cream scoop and place it on one corner of a cabbage leaf. Roll the meat mixture, turning the sides of the leaf in while you are rolling the leaf. Once completely rolled, place it cut-side down in your baking dish. Repeat this process until all your filling is rolled into the leaves. We had a small amount of the meat mixture and made them into meatballs. They were placed alongside the rolls.
  10. Pour the stock over the cabbage rolls. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil to hold moisture while baking. Bake for 45 minutes.
  11. Once baked, serve it the Croatian traditional style, with buttered mashed potatoes and crusty bread. - Enjoy!