The joy of Sarma – it is never too late to learn how to make it

Winter is here and obviously it is Sarma stuffing time

Alanyadk (CC0), Pixabay

Cooking time – If you are faint of heart or culinary purists, please, stop reading now, and the rest of you, here’s how to maybe do it, but probably your first attempt will be much better. “So, what will you write about?”, asks my editor the other day. “I don’t know, something about… sarma?”, I reply, vaguely hoping he will shoot it down and I will go pick something like finding the best cup of mulled wine on the Zagreb Advent fest, which would take a LOT of testing, but which is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

“Brilliant!”, he says to my idea of the traditional stuffed cabbage leaves, thus shattering my ideas of wintry strolls and getting pleasantly tipsy in the line of duty, “do a photo tutorial too, that will be brilliant!”.

I should have said no. I should have charged him double just for keeping the pets out of the kitchen and the photographs.  Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. Gather around, little Slavorumchicks, and hear the story of how I made my second ever sarma, and of all the things that went wrong.

Photo: Tina Bralic via

Get your ingredients. I got mine- minced meat, sauerkraut, rice and spices. I do admit to using a very famous spice mix which shall not be named, because I am totally not paid to advertise them, but you can make your own by adding salt, pepper, parsley, bit of paprika and celery.

Photo: Tina Bralic via

Now just mix up everything but the cabbage together thoroughly. This is an important step, and you probably want to get yourself a glass of wine or a beer as a refreshment, because it’s very hard work.

Now, the next step is super important, and I learned the hard way that skipping it can make the whole process harder. First, you’ll want to gently remove one of the cabbage leaves off the head, and then fillet off a thicker portion of the leaf stem. What you do with it later, is entirely up to you.

Photo: Tina Bralic via

Put it in the pot, feed it to your canine assistant (mine refused it), or human assistants (he loved it), eat it yourself, or if you are wasteful (and really, what WOULD your grandma say?!), throw it away.

Now take a spoonful of the rice-mince-spice mix and place it around the base of the leaf. Don’t overdo it, you don’t want them overstuffed and unravelling and exploding all over the place and.. other things. Let’s not talk about other things.

Photo: Tina Bralic via

Roll them up. Now, this is a controversial step. I personally prefer the spring rolls method- roll once, fold the edges inside, continue rolling. There is also the roll-all-then-tuck method, but I found this one simpler. Also, the wine glass was half empty at this point.   Don’t roll too tight. Rice expands. (as we have learned from repeated mistakes with stuffed peppers, but I’ll get to that in the summer)

Repeat steps 3,4 and 5 for about as long as you have stuffing.

Now that you’re out of stuffing (and probably drink, go get yourself another one, it’s an important step), slice up the rest of your cabbage (sans cabbage stem, dispose of that as you see fit), and place it at the bottom of your pot. I did not do this, but have been informed that this is the *proper* way to do it.

Photo: Tina Bralic via

Then place your sarmas on it. Some like to stand them upright, some (like me) like to lay them flat. It’s up to you, I won’t judge, and the Sarma won’t either. Those that do judge, just, get them out of your life. You don’t need that, and they don’t deserve your Sarma.

This is the point where you will add cured meats, additional lard or butter, maybe a few spoonfuls of tomato puree, pour water over it all (enough to cover it all) and cook for about two hours. Or two and a half, It’s up to you and your Sarmas.

Photo: Vitaan26 via wikimedia

I have no pictures of the finished product because, being the heretic I am, I didn’t add cured meats, and frankly, the moment it was finished I was too busy eating it (and it was delicious, even though it was a totally non-traditional Sarma). So, this is about as basic of a recipe as it goes, and I’d love to hear your suggestions on how to improve it or, what to you, a real Sarma is.

What do you think?

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