The Recipe

Serbian Sarma

As Sladjana Opacic from Sabac, Serbia, taught Lindsay Sterling in Westbrook Maine, March 2015

Makes 36
Cooking time: 1 hr + 30 minutes (or 3 hours if you don't have pressure cooker)

2 onions, medium dice
1 carrot, grated
1/4 + 1/4 cup mild olive oil or vegetable oil
1 tsp black pepper
3 lb. beef
2 large jars pickled cabbage leaves
3 tsp Vegeta seasoning
1 tsp + 1 tsp paprika
2 tsp dried parlsey
2 tsp salt
2/3 cup Arborio rice

Saute onion and carrot on medium heat in 1/4 cup oil until soft. Add black pepper and beef. Cook until beef is cooked, and then add salt, vegeta, rice, paprika and parsley. Cover the bottom of a large soup pot with one layer of cabbage leaves so the sarma (cabbage rolls) that you put in there next won't stick to the bottom.

Take your first cabbage leaf. Slice any thick part off of the stem without cutting through the leaf. You do this to make the cabbage leaf easy to roll. Continue prepping each leaf like that and stuffing them with beef filling like they're mini beef burritos. Check out how she rolls them in this video.

In print here's how I would describe how to do it. Put stem down along the middle of your palm so you have a cabbage leaf cup facing up in your palm. Put about 2 Tbsp meat in the center of the cabbage cup. Fold one side of the leaf all the way over the meat. Then roll up the bottom of the leaf up over the meat filling and keep rolling until you have a fat cylinder. Close the open end of the cylinder by pushing the open leaf part with your pointer finger deeply into the center of the cylinder. Then squeeze both ends of the cylinder gently so you have a compact roll.

Pack sarma in the cabbage-lined pressure cooker or large pot. Fit the sarma tightly shoulder to shoulder so they don't come open when they cook.  Add water to just cover the sarmas in the pot and cook covered on low (like a 2 setting on an electric) for two to three hours in a regular pot or 30 minutes at pressure in a pressure cooker until the cabbage is tender. Keep an eye on the water level and add water if necessary to mostly cover the sarma.

When the sarma is close to being done, heat 1/4 cup oil in a saute pan. Add 1 Tbsp flour and cook, stirring until the flour darkens slightly and smells different than its raw self. Turn off heat and add 1 tsp paprika and stir. Drizzle flour-oil mixture over all the sarmas -- it will sizzle. Don't stir the the flour-paprika-oil mixture into the sarma. Instead,  turn the sarma pot quickly a number of times to incorporate the flour-oil thickener into the broth without disturbing the rolls.

Place sarma on serving plates. Spoon slightly thickened cooking liquid over the tops. Serve with mashed potatoes and bread for soaking up the sauce.

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2015