Quite a few of you asked me on Instagram to share my mom’s vegan ‘Sarmale’ recipe, aka stuffed cabbage rolls. Whilst this dish exists traditionally in other Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries, it is definitely one of the most popular here in Romania. It’s usually made with meat, but mastering a delicious vegan version is actually quite easy. In fact, most of the taste comes from the gorgeously fermented cabbage leaves. Here’s how my mom makes hers – an autumn alchemy, really, if you look at the ingredients:
The cabbage was fermented over a long period of time using dill, thyme, quince,dried corn kernels, salt and pepper.
As for the Cabbage Rolls recipe, here it comes:
Romanian Cabbage Rolls
A warming, wholesome and healthy recipe for chillier days using fermented cabbage and a rice and vegetables filling.
Heat up the olive oil in a pan and cook the onions until soft, not brown.
Add the grated carrots and cook for a further few minutes.
Add the mushrooms and turn up the heat to evaporate some of the liquid. Stir occasionally for the mixture not to burn or stick to the pan.
Add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes stirring everything together.
Remove from heat and season well, especially with pepper. Add the chopped dill too and dried thyme.
Prep the cabbage head by removing the leaves one by one, chopping off the hard ends and creating even 'sheets' ready to be filled. Don't throw the 'trimmings'.
Add a spoon-full of the rice mixture in each sheet and roll into 'spring rolls-like' shapes, piling them up on a plate first.
Chop the leftover cabbage trimmings and add them to the bottom of an oven dish. (leave some for topping the rolls)
Place the rolls on the bed of trimmings, topping them with the other half of leftover cabbage trimmings
Add the tomato sauce on top, the chopped parsley and 1-2 tbsp of oil.
Add water till the rolls are almost covered with liquid, but not submerged.
Cover the dish with a lid or with foil.
Cook in the oven for 2 hours at 170 degrees Celsius and let them cool down a little before tucking in.
If you choose to cook them on the stove, you can follow the same steps, but using a deep pan, piling the rolls neatly and tightly. The cooking time is about 1-2h and you may have to top up the liquid every now and again, as it tends to evaporate quicker and you need it for the rice and cabbage to cook properly and soften.
Enjoy with savoury yoghurt, polenta and pickled hot peppers.