Sarma is a Croatian/Serbian version of the cabbage rolls found throughout all the Balkan countries. It is unusual in that the cabbage shows up not only as the wrapper for the meat-and-rice-filled rolls, but also as sauerkraut. That’s usually served underneath the rolls, but sometimes inside them. When Drago’s had an extensive menu of Croatian dishes in the 1980s, this was the best of them. It’s a great alternative for the plain cabbage we usually get on New Year’s Day. It looks and sounds very homely, but trust me: this is a killer dish!

Sarma, a favorite Croatian dish.

  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 2 strips thick bacon
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3/4 lb. ground round
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Creole seasoning
  • 1 Tbs. Tabasco Caribbean-style steak sauce (or Pickapeppa)*
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/4 lb. ham, cut into small dice
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice
  • *Substitute: 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce, plus 4 dashes Tabasco

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While waiting for that to happen, remove the outer, imperfect leaves of the cabbage. Then cut out the core of the cabbage, leaving a cone-shaped hole about two inches in diameter. Boil the cabbage for about five minutes. Remove from the heat, but keep the cabbage in the pot, covered.

2. In a skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp. Remove and reserve the bacon. Add the chopped onions to the skillet and cook until they become translucent.

3. Add the ground beef and pork. With a kitchen fork, break up the ground meats as they cook to keep them from clumping. Add a little water ( up to 1/4 cup) to help keep the meat in small morsels.

4. Add salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, and steak sauce to the mixture. Continue cooking, stirring with the fork now and then, until the meat is fully cooked. Crumble the bacon into the pan, and add the ham and rice. Stir to combine all the ingredients completely. Remove the pan from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

5. Remove the cabbage from the pot and rise with water to cool. Carefully peel off twelve to sixteen leaves, trying not to tear them. Shake off the excess water.

6. Spoon about three tablespoons (or as much as will fit without stretching the leaves) of the meat-and-rice mixture onto each cabbage leaf, starting at the stem end. Spoon about two tablespoons of marinara sauce over the stuffing. Roll the cabbage leaf up, folding the sides in as you roll to make a package. Repeat until all the stuffing is stuffed.

7. Cover the bottom of a large baking dish with half the sauerkraut. Place the cabbage rolls on top. Scatter the remaining sauerkraut over the cabbage rolls. Pour two cups of water (better: beef or chicken stock) over the rolls. Cover the pan (foil is okay) and put into the oven for an hour to an hour and a half. Serve one or two per person (depending on what else is on the plate), with equal shares of the sauerkraut.

Serves about twelve.

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