Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Romanian Holiday Fare

If you walk into any house in Romania during any holiday you're very likely to find this dish. It's tradition and custom you can't ignore. And if you're Romanian, you can't forget it even while living across the Atlantic from the place that instilled it in you. It's just not Christmas without it. What I love about it is this - it's simple, peasant food. Hearty, honest and mighty tasty. You can also feed all your family and friends and neighbours with one pot. It keeps well and it only tastes better the following days.
There are many variants to stuffed cabbage, this is the one we like:

5 lb pickled cabbage
3 lb ground meat, a combination of beef and pork
2 tb butter
2 cups onion
1 1/2 cups white rice
1 egg
8 oz smoked bacon or 1 smoked hock
1 bunch dill
6 oz tomato sauce
2 heaping tb tomato paste
salt, pepper.

The pickled cabbage you find jarred in the polish food section. The meat combo I preffer is 60% chuck to 40% pork. I always use pearl rice, but any white variety will be fine. Get the best bacon you can find, none of that thinly sliced stuff and don't even eye the turkey bacon. If you can't find one that makes you feel your arteries cloggin' up, just get a smoked hock or two.
First sweat the onion in the butter over low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Set aside to cool.
Place all your meat in a bowl and add the rice, the egg and the onion. Season and mix using your hands to gently combine all the ingredients. If you overmix your meat will become dense and dry. Set aside while you prep the cabbage. Take out the leaves, unroll them and trim to size. You want about the same size in all of them. Place one in the palm of your hand, and put the meat in the center. Roll up as tightly as you can.
Chop the cabbage trimmings and any leaves left over and put a thin layer in the bottom of your pan. Put two slices of bacon on top and then make a layer of stuffed cabbage, as crowded as possible to prevent unwrapping during cooking. Then bacon. Then meat wrapped in cabbage. If you're using the hock, you want it in the middle of it all, so just build your layers around it. Top with another layer of shredded cabbage.

Wedge your dill between the cabbage and the wall, plop the tomato sauce and paste on top, and run water over it. You only want just enough to cover it. Bring to boil and then simmer covered for 2 hours. Replenish water as needed, check every 30 to 40 minutes.
Tip for other lazy***slackers like me: by trim the leaves I simply mean cut in half, leave out the stem. You'll get biiig, huge stuffed cabbage, but hey, you'll only need two before going into hibernation. It's a sweet deal. This recipe will yield 30 such mutants. Serves, um, 6?
And final proof of deliciousness:

Believe me, it's no small feat getting her to eat anything, much less something containg meat. QED.

*** Cholesterol screening not included. Each must purchase his own.


  1. Anybody who says "sweat the onions" rather than "saute" (fail!) is OK by me. Wow. Sweat. I've always wanted to write it in a cookbook--because it's frickin' accurate--and have always had it removed by editors.

  2. Hallo Dana,

    Minunat aratä.
    Si de ce aduci Tu Vorba aicia de Colesterol. Faci numai reclamä proastä la sarmalele astea minunate.
    Sarmale este o Mincatre nici mäcar asa de grasä...

    Multe Salutäri Jacob

  3. jacob, ma tem ca m-am molipsit de la americani :), care cum vad bacon intr-o mancare incep sa-ti spuna povesti despre cutare unchi care-a avut probleme de sanatate. sau sa numere puncte si sa calculeze calorii. intentia era de gluma.


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