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Sarma - A Culinary Classic

Sarma – or cabbage rolls stuffed with minced meat – is one of the most famous Serbian specialties and is a must at every table during holidays, feasts and festive occasions. Sarma is said to taste best on the third day after preparation. A big question among sarma tasters is whether sarma can be eaten with side dishes such as mashed potatoes, hot peppers, sour cream, ajvar etc. or not, as a side dish could spoil the unique sarma taste. This shows how popular sarma is. Although – it has to be said – sarma is not actually an autochthonous Serbian dish. The word “sarma” comes from the Turkish “sarmak” and means “to wrap”. The dish was brought to Serbia by the Ottomans. Sarma is also widespread throughout the Balkans and the sour and delicious dish is also enjoyed in Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania

Photo by Goran Andjelic - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Photo by Goran Andjelic - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Here is a simple sarma recipe for those who want to familiarize themselves with Serbian culinary culture::

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 1 small head of sauerkraut
  • 300-400 g minced meat (vegan alternative: soy minced meat)
  • 125 g smoked bacon, finely chopped (vegan alternative: grated smoked tofu)
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 onion
  • 1 egg
  • oil
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • Spices: Vegeta (spice mix), sweet paprika, salt + pepper
  1. Sauerkraut head: Remove the leaves from the sauerkraut head one by one. The leaves should be large enough to wrap around a ball-sized meat mixture. Cut the smaller leaves into strips and set aside so that they can be placed between the individual roulades and in the pot on top.
  2. Meat filling: Mix together the minced meat, very finely chopped bacon, pre-cooked rice, onion and egg. Season everything with paprika, salt and pepper.
  3. Wrap: Place a meat filling on each cabbage leaf and shape into an oblong form.
  4. Cook: Heat about 3 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan, add half of the chopped sauerkraut, paprika powder and tomato paste and fry briefly. Layer the roulades from large to small and sprinkle with Vegeta in between. When the pot is full, pour in 1-1.5 liters of warm water and cover the sarma with chopped cabbage. Leave to simmer for about 3 hours. Do not stir or turn.
  5. Prepare the roux: Separately, heat approx. 2-3 tbsp oil in a pan, add 1-2 tbsp flour and 1 tbsp paprika powder and brown. Deglaze with approx. ½ liter of the hot stock from the pan and stir. Pour the roux over the sarma and allow to thicken until the liquid in the sarma becomes creamy.
  6. Prijatno!

Text: Snežana Stefanović

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