Homemade Bulgarian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarmi)
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You may know it as stuffed cabbage. To Bulgarians, it’s known as Sarmi. Whatever you call it, it’s a hearty, one pot meal that’s great for families.
Traditionally there is always some kind of pork in this dish, whether it’s the ground meat, the addition of ham, or, as our recipe has, bacon…because who doesn’t like bacon? The spices can be tweaked or omitted to your liking. Mint or spicy red pepper are common substitutes.
Our recipe has a little twist. Instead of parboiling the cabbage leaves, we’re using fermented cabbage leaves. And since sarmi is often cooked on a bed of sauerkraut, you’ll be able to skip a step.
Here is what you need for the recipe
- 1 large fermented cabbage see recipe below
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 tbsp salt
- 450 g smoked bacon
- 1 kg ground meat pork, veal or beef
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- salt & pepper
- 1 whole cabbage
- 33 grams kosher salt
- 2 bay leaves optional
- 1 tbsp whole peppercorns optional
- 1 clove garlic optional
- On medium high heat, saute diced onion in olive oil until soft and brown.
- Add smoked pork and ground meat together with salt, paprika and pepper.
- Combine well. Cook for about 2 minutes then add the rice. Set aside.
- Wash the fermented cabbage to remove excess salt
- Fill each cabbage leaf with 3 tablespoons of the meat mixture.
- Roll in the palm of your hand or place each leaf on a surface and then fill and roll with both hands.
- Line a cast iron pot with the remaining cabbage leaves.
- Layer the stuffed cabbage in the pot. Between each layer place bay leaves and sprinkle with a bit of paprika.
- Repeat this process with the remaining stuffed cabbages.
- Cover the sarmi with a large cabbage leaf then add enough water to fill 2/3 of the pot.
- Cook over medium high until boiling, then reduce the heat to low. Cover.
- When the top leaves become almost transparent, the sarmi are cooked (about 1-2 hours).
- Remove sarmi to serving dish. Use some of the cooking liquid with any bits of bacon, meat and cabbage to use as a light sauce.
- To make fermented Cabbage, start with removing damaged leaves and washing the cabbage. Core and remove the leaves, keeping the intact.
- Place cabbage in a large bowl and add 33 grams of salt and one liter of water. Add the optional spices if desired.
- Cover the bowl with cheese cloth, using a rubber band to keep in place. Store on the counter, away from sunlight. Check daily, pressing cabbage into liquid. After 3 days, “taste test” the cabbage. If not to your liking, re-cover and continue fermenting for up to 10 days.
Need the taste of tomatoes with your sarmi? Add one cup of tomato juice or puree and less water.
You can finish this dish in the oven instead of the stove top. Remove from heat after bringing to a boil (step 11), cover and place in a 350 F oven.
Some cooks advise weighing down the cabbage rolls to keep them from coming apart. Place a heavy baking dish on top of the cabbage and simmer on the stovetop or bake in the oven.
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