In Romania, sarmales are a special treat for Christmas dinner. They are typically served with mămăligă (polenta). We make them in large batches because they taste even better the next day. They can also be frozen.
2 or 3 large heads of cabbage
1 lemon, juiced
4 onions, chopped
2 cups celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup of rice
2 lbs of ground pork
2 lbs of ground beef
1 Tablespoon of (sweet) paprika
4 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of pepper
32 oz. of sauerkraut (save the juice)
1lbs. of bacon, sliced
½ cup of water
1 Tablespoon of Vegeta*
Remove the core of the cabbage with a paring knife.
Add to a pot of boiling salted water the juice from 1 lemon. Immerse the heads of cabbage in the boiling water for a few minutes, peeling off each leaf with tongs as soon as it becomes pliable. Set the leaves aside.
In a skillet add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and sauté onion, celery, garlic and raw rice for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl add the sautéed mixture, ground pork, ground beef, paprika, salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix everything together.
To assemble the sarmales, remove the hard triangular rib from the base of each cabbage leaf with a small paring knife. Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of filling in an oval shape near the rib edge of each leaf. As you are starting to roll up toward the outer edge, fold the right side edge of the leaf towards the center. Continue rolling until your reach the top. Now you need to tuck the left side of the cabbage leaf into itself. Continue with this rolling method until you finish the meat mixture.
Line the bottom of a large roasting pan with a thin layer of chopped cabbage and sauerkraut. Place 3 or 4 strips of bacon across sauerkraut. Cover with a layer of stuffed cabbage placed side by side. Followed by another layer of sauerkraut, strips of bacon, and stuffed cabbage. End with bacon strips and sauerkraut covering the top of sarmales. Add any extra whole cabbage leafs on top to help keep moisture in.
Mix Vegeta in ½ cup water and stir to dissolve. Add Vegeta mixture, sauerkraut juice and enough water to almost cover all the layers of sarmales.
Cover the baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 3 hours.
*Vegeta is a gourmet seasoning and soup mix imported from Croatia.
Total baking time: 3 hours
Makes: about 35-40 sarmales