Sarmale

I recently spent two weeks on a mission trip in Vienna, Austria working with students who are studying in a theologian degree program with TCMI International Institute. These students come from mostly Eastern European countries to spend some much needed rest time in the Vienna Woods while attending classes towards their degree. We, as short-term workers, are there to take care of their everyday needs such as meals, housekeeping and maintenance of the campus so they may concentrate on their studies.

This year we had 57 students from 11 different countries. One of my greatest joys is to meet these students and learn about their family and their ministries. They are always willing to share traditions and especially food dishes from their native homeland. As I sat at meals with the students, I made a point to ask them which of their country’s traditional dishes they would like me to spotlight on my food blog. It’s a blessing to see their faces light up when they talk about their favorite dish and reminisce about a family member who makes the best one.

So, for the next 11 days I will be spotlighting each of these countries and a traditional dish in honor of these students and their love for their homeland. I encourage you to try some of these dishes and if you like them, do further research on that particular country’s cuisine. You may find a new favorite recipe or two for your family!

Spotlight: Romania

Dish: Sarmale

Sarmale is a dish of grape, cabbage, monk’s rhubarb or chard leaves rolled around a filling usually based on minced meat, or a sweet dish of filo dough wrapped around a filling often of various kinds of chopped nuts. It is found in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire from the Middle East to Eastern Europe (particularly in the Balkans).

I am a huge fan of stuffed cabbage here in the states and this is a similar recipe so I had to share it to spotlight Romania. However, they also have a sweet version, which is genius. Many European dishes have a sweet and savory version that makes them popular as street food.

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds heads of cabbage
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground pork
  • tablespoons vegetable oil
  • medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 pound bacon, finely diced
  • tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • cup rice
  • cup tomato sauce
  • cup tomato juice
  • quart sauerkraut (I prefer Polish in jar)
  • bay leaf
  • sprig fresh dill (optional)
  • smoked ham hock

Preparation:

  1. Remove core from cabbage. In a large pot, bring to boil enough water to cover cabbage. Add 2 tablespoons salt and 1/4 cup vinegar to boiling water. Immerse cabbage in boiling water. Cover and cook over medium-high heat 5 to 7 minutes. With fork or tongs, gently remove leaves as they become tender. Drain well; let cool. Trim main leaf vein so it is flat like rest of cabbage leaf.
  2. In a large frying pan over medium heat, add oil, onions, celery, bacon, salt, pepper, paprika, parsley leaves and saute until light golden brown. Remove from heat and let cool for 1/2 hour.
  3. Add ground pork, rice and sauteed onions together along with 1/2 cup water, and mix well. This is the meat filling.
  4. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the meat filling in center of cabbage leaf. Fold right hand side of leaf over filling, then roll from base to bottom of leaf, then with index finger gently tuck left hand side of leaf into cabbage roll to make a nice neat roll. Squeeze juice out of sauerkraut and place 1/2 of jar on bottom of pot. Chop any leftover cabbage and place on top of sauerkraut. Place pork hock on top of sauerkraut. Arrange cabbage rolls, seam side down in pot in neat layers. Place them loosely touching each other and layer on top of one another. Sprinkle with salt between layers. Place second half of sauerkraut on top of cabbage rolls. Spread tomato sauce and tomato juice over kraut and place 1 bay leaf (and optional dill sprig) on top. Cover rolls with water just enough to cover rolls. Place heavy dish on top making sure there is a couple inches between plate on top of pot. Cover pot and bring to boiling and reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 2 hours.
  5. Serve with sour cream and mamaliga for a real Romanian dish.

 

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