When I intended to post this recipe Easter was going to be here. Easter has now gone and I finally managed to get this recipe up and live. It’s life, busy, busy, busy bee.
Traditionally in my household these cabbage rolls or sarmale cannot be given a miss at these festive times. I now make them whenever I fancy them.
What is sarmale
Sarmale is a dish that I have eaten and enjoyed almost all my life since I was a tiny kid, especially around festive holiday times when everyone was making them and the whole town smelled yummy of these delicious cabbage rolls, especially at Easter and Christmas time. They are such a Romanian traditional dish that Prince Charles now greatly enjoys along with the traditional chicken soup apparently one of his top faves every time he’s over there.
Down the memory lane
My dearest and most beloved grandma used to make the best Easter dishes ever, the amount of work she was putting in was absolutely unbelievable. Days and days of cooking. There were generally a lot of family members visiting so she was making tonnes of food. I remember always saying to her that she could feed a whole hungry battalion and she was always responding that “the hungry battalion is on its way” ?. She was such a great woman. I miss her terribly some days. ❤ I was never a special kid but she always made me feel so special. ?
I’ve learned that Life is so precious and it is really important to cherish and show our love to the ones we love to the fullest and to the very maximum.
... and more delicious memories ...
I remember my mum or grandma boiling them for a minimum of 3-4 or up to 6 hours?. It was a little excruciating for me as a kid smelling these and having to wait for so long to have one. They had to stay hours and hours on the stove or in the oven at low heat. My grandma used to sneak a couple out of the pot and give them for me to do the ‘tasting’ and sometimes I was so hungry (you know how kids are always hungry) and I remember I was saying, well, I can’t really give you the verdict on how good they are unless I have a few more, one for every tooth please .... haha. What a fun time, childhood with its amazing times and delicious memories.
Cooking these delicious beauties.....
Oh well, coming back to those stuffed cabbage rolls, I make these a lot more lately especially since my family enjoys them a lot more than a few years back.
So, from being the highlight dish at festive times and holidays, these cabbage rolls have now become a regular one. They’re super healthy so why not?! Oh, and the smell in your kitchen.... incredible!?
The truth is that as much as I loved them before I used to avoid making them due to the time they were actually taking to boil, yes, to boil, not to make.
That’s the tradition I know but times have changed. Before women were home just doing the cooking, cleaning, and looking after kids, that was hard enough. Now..... don’t even get me started... we don’t stop, do we?! ??
Cooking time ... a myth...or reality... a necessity?
I really don’t want you to get me wrong here because yes, they are supposedly meant to be cooked slowly, so I was told but, do they really?? Heck, not!! I have them on the table within an hour and that’s thanks to my instant pot or pressure cooker, whatever you want to call it.
Well, seriously, I could never boil them for so long for two reasons, well, three actually:
- They would put a heavy environmental carbon footprint with so many hours of gas burnt or electricity consumed and I am very conscientious when it comes to this - you know me by now- I totally dislike and avoid wasting! Anything! Wasting is bad, full stop. Besides.... it really is unnecessary - I have tested it so many times by now and it is no need for all those hours of cooking.
- All the veggies will get way, way and so overly cooked and I don’t like murdering all that goodness - I still want some nourishment left in there - yes, please?
- Simply, I couldn’t find that amount of time. We’re living at times when we don’t want to spend as much cooking and as much I do love cooking... I love quick yet delish dishes so this is when my instant pot comes really handy. It’s my kitchen treasure and that’s as much and as far as I can say!
The end... let's just get going ...
Oh yes, I really enjoy making the stuffed cabbage rolls in my pressure cooker. Waw! They’re ready and cooked to perfection in no time. I always set my pressure cooker to 30 min and they’re ready and done with boiling in just under one hour. Of course, you can choose slow cooking too but to me, for the reasons mentioned above, I do not.
Let’s get rolling!
Cabbage rolls ‘sarmale’ stuffed with ground beef veggies and rice
- 1 savoy cabbage head fresh or soured*
- 300 g minced lean beef
- 300 g minced pork
- 200 g smoked bacon diced
- 5-6 smoked pork ribs
- 1 courgette
- ½ small leek
- 1 carrot medium
- 2 onions medium
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 100 g rice rinsed
- 2 cans chopped tomatoes *
- 1 chilli
- 2 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
- I used sour cabbage just like I did, do the same, core it (if it still has the core) and place it in a big pot/dish in lukewarm water (3-4 l) ideally for at least 1 hour ahead since this is very salty so it needs some time to desalt.
Don’t worry if you cannot leave it for so long - leave it the longest you can. Just open it nicely so that all leaves are individually loose in the water. See recipe notes about the cabbage types*
- I always prepare the vegetable and rice mixture immediately after resoving the cabbage as this needs some time to cool. So, peel and wash the carrot and just wash the courgette and then grate both on the bigger whole grater.
- Finely chop the onions and the leek. Place them in a pan over medium heat, add some salt and soften with a dash of water or oil if you wish. I don’t use any oil since the meat has all that’s needed and plenty more to add to the dish overall but feel free to use if you wish. Cook for 3 minutes covered until onions become translucent.
- Add the rice, cook for 1 min and then immediately add the grated courgette and the carrot, half of the thyme and two bay leaves that you can break into two. Try not breaking them into smaller pieces as they will need to be picked/fished out at the end of the cooking, before mixing with the meat. Cook for a further 3 mins.
- Add 1 can of chopped tomato or tomato juice (even a cream of tomato soup if you’d like) and allow this to start boiling. Turn the heat off and set aside for a little while till slightly cool. Tip: My mum told me to never mix the hot mixture with the mince as the meat will get spoiled. I’m stuck with this idea in my head- if you know otherwise.... just do as you know.
- Cut each leaf in two by the thick vein found in the middle of each leaf, cut out the remaining thick vein. Easier to handle.
- In a large bowl add the mince meats, the smoked bacon, very little salt, pepper, chopped parsley, dill and the rice n’ vegetable mixture once this has cooled. Mix well until it becomes homogeneous.
- Let’s get rolling these beauties. Place about 1 ½ tablespoon of meat mixture on a taylored cabbage leaf. Fold in the sides and roll. Tuck in the side ends. Repeat until you finished the mixture.
- Place all rolled up cabbage rolls into the pot or dish you desire to cook them in. I use this Insta pot. Place some herbs like thyme, lovage and couple of broken bay leaves in between along with the smoked pork or beef ribs.
- Set up the pot manually for 30-40 min and set the pressure knob on closed so that the pressure will be contained rather than released. They’re ready when the pressure cooker says it’s finished. I occasionally cook them further with taking the lid off and set to cook for a further 15 -20 min just to reduce the juice if too much or too watery.
This operation has to be done super carefully and you should only attempt to open the lid once the pressure inside the cooker has gone so needs to be left for a while or the pressure released manually by opening the top knob until no more steam comes out so all that whistling ended.
- Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or double cream. I personally like the sour cream or the creme fraiche (smantana) as I feel that goes very well with it rather than the sweet double or single cream. Of course a polenta alongside will be even better but I leave that to your personal choice and preference.