Romanian Sarmale Recipe – Low Fat

Sarmale with bread

Known as sour cabbage rolls, or stuffed cabbage rolls, the Romanian sarmale are a perfect dish for any festive occasion. The traditional recipe is however fatty, and heavy. Mine is adapted to our dietary needs, and despite the fact that it lacks lard and fat meats, it’s still as tasty as it can be. What lacks in fats is added in flavors – fresh herbs from my own garden.

The dish is usually made around Christmas, when pork meat is available and fresh in most rural households, right after the traditional pig slaughtering. Weddings are also an occasion for Romanians to celebrate serving sarmale. In our home, we just eat them when we are in the mood.

Because we are living in Germany, where pickled cabbage leaves are not available in stores, we usually buy whole pickled cabbage heads, vacuum packed, from Turkish or Russian stores.

The traditional serving of sarmale is with hot polenta and sour cream. I will follow up with a series of polenta recipes soon. In the meanwhile, if you don’t know how to make polenta, and you cannot find a simple recipe, just serve with bread.

Romanian Sarmale

Serves 8
Prep time 1 hour, 15 minutes
Cook time 3 hours
Total time 4 hours, 15 minutes
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Serve Hot
Occasion Christmas
Region European
By author Fusion Mom
A low-fat sarmale recipe, adapted from an original Romanian traditional dish cooked by my grandmother.

Ingredients

  • 1 Large pickled cabbage
  • 1kg ground meat (low fat pork)
  • 2 Large onions (finely chopped)
  • 50g rice
  • 5 Large tomatoes
  • 2 thin slices smoked bacon (diced)
  • 1 bunch fresh herbs (parsley, marjoram, bay leaf, dill)
  • 1 pinch pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • water
  • 10g butter

Directions

Step 1
Fry the onion in butter till it gets gold brown, then mix it in a bowl with the meat, rice, pepper, finely chopped herbs, paprika, and garlic. Do not add salt - picked cabbage is already very salty.
Step 2
Carefully remove the cabbage leaves one by one, paying attention not to tear them. Depending on how big your cabbage is you need whole leaves or halves to make the rolls. Cut out the cabbage core from every leaf – it enables you to make aesthetic rolls. Take a small amount of the mean mixture, and wrap it carefully in a single cabbage leaf. Tuck in the endings of the leaf, so that no meet remains uncovered.
How to make a cabbage roll.
Step 3
In a deep pot, lay a bed of sauerkraut, then place the rolls in concentric layers. Cover each layer with a layer of sauerkraut and sprinkle the diced bacon randomly among the rolls. The last layer is whole cabbage leaves. Seal with tomatoes and add water (or meat stock) up to the top level of rolls.
How to place the sarmale in the pot to boil.
Step 4
Place on stove, bring to boil, and then reduce heat to low and continue boiling for two-three hours. Personally I like to boil them two hours and then bake them an additional 60 minutes at 180°C.
How to serve sarmale.
Step 5
Serve hot, with polenta and sour cream.

Note

For this recipe I only use lean meat and no other fat than the bacon and a small knob of butter. The original recipe contains fat meat and lard. Romanians prefer the traditional, fatty sarmale, however, our family will always enjoy a low fat diet.

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  1. [...] favorite and an element infused into many diets. In Romania, I know, the derivative there is the sarmalute, cabbage leaves stuffed with a variety of fillings. Rice, other vegetables, even meats are used to [...]

  2. [...] favorite and an element infused into many diets. In Romania, I know, the derivative there is the sarmalute, cabbage leaves stuffed with a variety of fillings. Rice, other vegetables, even meats are used to [...]