Monday, May 10, 2010

Sarma ala Zorana & Mama (Serbian = Сарма)

Sarma one of the most common Serbian dishes. Sarma in Turkish means "wrapping". Although we wrap many different kinds of leaves, sarma commonly refers to wrapped sour cabbage leaves.

Sarmas in Serbia are made with smoked pork ribs and absorb a nice smoky flavor as they simmers for a long time. Since it is not easy to get good smoked meat here, my mom and I made this experiment to see how we can make good sarmas with ingredients you are easily found at the supermarket. Of course you will have to get sour cabbage at a specialty store. We found this at the Rose Market, a Persian store in Mountain View.


20 sour cabbage leaves (whole)
2 yellow onions, minced

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

2 lbs ground beef

0.5 lbs ground pork

1 smoked polish sausage, 1/2 shredded in the food processor, and 1/2 sliced

1.5 cups white rice

8 bacon slices, 3 slices minced, and 5 sliced left whole

1/4 cup oil

2 tbsp paprika

1.5 tsp Vegeta or another vegetable based seasoning
salt and pepper
3 bay leaves

several dried red peppers (optional)

Prepare all the ingredients- mince onions and garlic, cut up the bacon and shred 1/2 of the sausage.

Heat the oil in a pan. When the oil is hot enough, add bacon and allow it to cook for several minutes. Bacon should not be crispy, so don't overcook it.

Add onions and garlic, and stir. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the meat: ground pork, ground beef and shredded sausage. Now, it is important to stir the meat well and break up the lumps, especially if your meat was previously frozen.

When the meat looks cooked, add rice and mix well.

Now that you have a good mixture of onions, garlic, meats and rice, add paprika, Vegeta, salt and pepper. Be generous on paprika and pepper, but do not go overboard with salt, as the cabbage leaves are already very salty. Mix well.

Turn off the burner and allow the meat to cool down a bit while you prepare the cabbage leaves.

Take the cabbage leaves out of the jar carefully, so that they don't rip. Rinse them and stack them into a plate. If any leaves are very large, you may cut them in half.
Get your crock pot ready. Please a couple of slices on bacon on the bottom, and any smaller or ripped cabbage pieces. Cabbage is not necessary here unless you have some pieces to spare.

Now you are ready to wrap sarmas. Make an assembly line- cabbage leaves on the left, meat in the middle, and crock pot on the right.
1. Hold one cabbage leaf in your left hand. Place about 2 scoops of a meat fill with a wooden spoon.
2. Fold the cabbage leaf
3. Fold the two sides
4. Wrap tightly
5. Praise your sarma
6. Place it into the crock pot

In order to get good at sarma wrapping, you need a lot of practice. Here is a short video of my mom wrapping sarmas that might help you start.

Once you cover the bottom of the crock pot, add some sausage slices in between sarmas, then stack the rest of the sarma on top. You will need to make a second level.

When you are done with the second level, use the leftover sausage slices to put in between the sarmas on the second level, add the bay leaves as well, then cover the sarmas with the remaining cabbage leaves, bacon slices and dried peppers if you have any. Dried peppers are not a traditional way of making sarmas, but they add a great flavor and I would recommend adding them to this dish if you can find some. But please, don't use the spicy ones, this dish is not meant to be spicy, as it has a great flavor already that should not be overpowered by a hot pepper.

Rinse the flavors from the pan with water, and then use that water to fill the crock pot.

Fill to water to almost over the sarmas.

Cook on low for 9 hours.

Serve with fresh baguette on the side. Sarmas are good reheated, and taste even better the next day.

Also see collard greens sarma.

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  1. Sounds ymmy!
    You can also find sour cabbage leaves at Hamilton Euromarket in Campbell, CA as well as Euro Market in Santa Clara, CA (Google search yields both).
    They also have good selection of smoked meats :)

  2. The first picture was a little off-putting,large eastern european grubs or larvae came to mind. But after reading the ingredients it sounds pretty tasty.

  3. Do you have to drain the fat from the beef/pork before adding it? If not, it sounds like it will be pretty fatty.

  4. No, you don't drain anything. You need some liquid in there for it to cook. It is a fatty meal, but it is not that fatty. If you don't like it fatty, you don't have to use bacon or pork.

  5. Thanks, I ended up making it today and it was very good. I didn't think I would like using sour cabbage, but it just gave it a slight sour taste which was excellent. My fiance (who is Serbian) said they were really good!

  6. Maybe "one of the most common Serbian dishes", but it comes from Turkey and there its also called Sarma or Dolma.

  7. It is common in serbia, but it doesn't come from turkey either.quite common in the middle east too.