Sarmale (Stuffed Cabbage)
We’ve adapted this recipe by using fresh cabbage leaves rather than the more traditional pickled cabbage. To add a pleasant sourness to the dish, top the stuffed cabbage in the pot with 2 cups sauerkraut before baking, if you like.
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 large head green cabbage, cored
- 1⁄2 cup long-grain rice
- 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 white onion, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp. dried bread crumbs
- 1⁄2 tbsp. sweet paprika
- 1⁄4 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
- 12 oz. ground beef
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed (optional)
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 strips bacon (optional)
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and crushed
- 1⁄2 cup chicken stock
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cabbage and cook, pulling off each outer leaf with tongs as it becomes tender, about 2 minutes per leaf. Transfer cabbage leaves to a baking sheet; set aside and continue boiling cabbage until you have 20 leaves.
- Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan. Add rice and boil for 10 minutes. Drain rice; set aside. Heat oil in a 10″ skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 8 minutes. Transfer onion mixture to a bowl along with the rice and let cool slightly. Add 1 tbsp. dill, bread crumbs, paprika, and chile flakes. Stir to combine. Using your hands, fold in beef and season with salt and pepper; set filling aside.
- Heat oven to 375°. Set aside 4 whole cabbage leaves. Working with remaining cabbage leaves one at a time, stem each leaf and cut leaf into 4″ square pieces. Repeat to make twenty-eight 4″ square pieces. Spoon 1 tbsp. of reserved filling onto center of a square. Bring up 1 edge of square and roll into a cylinder, tucking in sides. Transfer stuffed cabbage to a 6-qt. Dutch oven. Repeat with remaining leaves and filling, arranging stuffed cabbage in a circular pattern in pot as you go. Finely chop any remaining cabbage; set aside. Top stuffed cabbage with remaining dill, along with sauerkraut, thyme, bacon, and bay leaves. Top with minced cabbage leaves and tomatoes and pour in stock and 1⁄2 cup water. Cover with the reserved whole cabbage leaves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, transfer to oven, and bake until stuffed cabbage is tender and flavors meld, about 2 hours. Let cool slightly before serving.
Pairing note: Sharp, ripe Ramnista Ktima Kir-Yianni 2006 ($30), a red xinomavro from Macedonia, matches the bold flavors in this dish.