Last week I mentioned a humongous Moldovan masa that my friend Robin and I put together for Orthodox Easter. Our crowning achievement at this masa was the sarmale, which neither of us had ever made before. Sarmale are rice, veggies and meat wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves, kind of like Greek dolmas. They are usually served with sour cream, although by the time I finally got around to taking pictures we’d long run out of the sour cream. Sarmale are labor-intensive and, it turns out, far more difficult to wrap neatly than we’d originally thought.
First you have to steam or boil your cabbage leaves (which I did the day before). Then you have to make the filling (which Robin did the day before). And then you have to wrap the filling in the cabbage leaves. And then you cook it on the stove top. And then you cook it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. It took us about 1 1/2 hours to wrap all the sarmale, but that’s because we were both working at it. If you look at the following pictures in quick enough succession, you can almost watch Robin wrapping the sarmale!
My favorite sarmale to eat are the little ones that are about the size of your thumb. It turns out it’s especially difficult to make the little ones, much less big ones that don’t fall apart. Without Robin’s help we would definitely not have had sarmale at our Easter masa because she made the filling the day before and then the day of the masa we assembled and cooked the sarmale. Plus, I think Robin paid more attention to her host mom’s sarmale-making methods than I did! Some of them disintegrated a little during the cooking process, but they still tasted great. And the Moldovans and Romanians at our masa commended us on our sarmale-making skills, so things must not have gone too awry!
(A combination of Robin’s host mom’s recipe and the recipe from the Peace Corps cookbook)
8 onions, chopped
5 carrots, shredded
3 cups rice, uncooked
2 – 2½ cups water
1 cup group pork (optional)
2 cups broth and/or tomato juice (or enough to cover sarmale)
50 cabbage leaves
Parsley and dill to taste
Steam or boil cabbage leaves until soft and pliable. Set the cabbage aside.
Put onion in frying pan with oil or butter over medium low heat. Add carrots. Add in dry rice. Heat over medium heat, stirring for about 10 minutes. Add water and dill. Heat until water soaks in. Heat oven. Cool mixture completely, add pepper and salt to taste. Mix in ground pork.
Place 2 to 4 tablespoons of the filling mixture into the center of one cabbage leaf. Fold into a small, tight form, like a little burrito. Place the stuffed and folded cabbage leaves all together in a large, oven-proof pot (i.e. a Dutch oven). Make sure that the sarmale are seam-side down. Pout the broth and/or tomato juice over the sarmale and cover with more flat cabbage leaves. Cover and simmer ½ hour on the stove. Then put the pot in the oven to simmer for 1-1½ hours. Serve with sour cream.