Photo by Madalina Becker

Sauerkraut Rolls

Last of winter

I’ve stumbled a lot lately over sauerkraut-rolls recipes, joined by excited comments on the right name, or composition. Is it sarma, sarmale, kaldolmen, sarmasi or just rolls? I think all names are right, as is each mixture that each ambitious cook will choose to fill his sauerkraut-rolls, no matter if he follows the strict recipe of his family, or if he creates his own.

For me, there are two sorts of rolls: my mother’s version (oh, dear!), and the festive version, the mandatory part of each Sunday-, Christmas-, or Eastern lunch invitation, altogether the oblivious expectancy of each happy, or less happy family-and-friends gathering. To achieve the best shape, size, taste, and texture, it was the burden challenge for each cook, and the result the proof of their cooking skill. The best ones would simply melt in your mouth, and they should have been rather tiny, just the size of two fork’s teeth, a perfectly rolled piece of art. The secret was little rice, a perfect balance of pork and beef, lard, and a couple of hours of gently stewing in the oven. My mother didn’t have much time, and she was no friend of fat, so two rolls filled a plate, and they were rather something to bite and chew.

I am not such a friend of meat and fat, even if I cannot call myself a vegetarian. So, anyway, this is my version, with rice only and a lot of veggies.

Shopping List – Photo by Madalina Becker


Rolls:  1 pickled cabbage head, 2 onions, 1carrot, 1 celery slice, 1 parsnip, 1 yellow carrot, 1 parsley root, 1 cup (250 ml) of rice (Basmati, Jasmin, or round-grain). Optional: 50-70 g of stoneless black olives, or 100-200 g of mushrooms (e.g. king trumpet, porcini, morel, shitake)

Tomato Sauce: Mix 1000 ml tomato puree (passata) with 250 ml water or vegetable fond, 2 tbs tomato paste, salt, pepper, 4 bay leaves, 5 tbs (or more) olive oil, 2-3 tbs of freshly chopped herbs of your choice; extra: 3-4 of garlic, finely sliced

Polenta: 500 g corn flour for polenta, 1 ½ l water, 1tsp salt

What to do if you don’t find pickled cabbage:

To roll the leaves, you’ll have to make them soft. For this, you will need a big pot, wherein the cabbage head fits. Set the pot with water to boil. In the meantime, cut carefully the stem away. When the water is boiling, put the cabbage inside and boil until the leaves get glassy. Take it out and proceed the same as with the pickled one. If some of the leaves are still too sturdy, don’t hesitate to blanch them a little bit longer.

For the polenta

boil the water with the salt. Add the cornflour while continuously stirring. I’m using a strong stainless-steel whisk for that, which helps a lot against clumps. Let it simmer for a half an hour, regularly stirring. It is ready when the whisk will come out almost clean.

Of course, if you lack time, you should use an instant polenta-mix.

Now, to the rolls:

Place the rice in a very fine sieve and wash it with warm water, until the water comes clear. Let it drain. Clean, wash and chop very fine the onions and the carrots. Roast until golden. Add the rest of the veggies, also cleaned up, washed, and finely chopped. I’m using a hand-chopper for such things. Roast for a couple of minutes, while you keep stirring. Don’t let it stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the rice, stir, roast again until the rice gets glassy. Take off the heat.

How to fold a sauerkraut-roll
How to fold a sauerkraut-roll

Prepare the cabbage head. For a big pot of rolls, you will need a whole cabbage head, with nice, whole leaves. Remove the leaves, carefully, one by one, without tearing them apart. From each leave cut the thick stem away, because it wouldn’t roll. When you’re done with all the leaves, there will be an amount of cabbage rests. Chop it finely.

Pour one layer of tomato sauce in your pot. Spread two-thirds of the chopped cabbage, as well as some slices of garlic, and one or two bay leaves.

Start filling the rolls: either with a spoon or with a hand, put a small amount of filling in one cabbage leaf. Roll it tight and carefully like this:

Place rolls one next to another, over the chopped cabbage mix. There’s no need to leave any extra space between them. You will get two or three “levels” of rolls, depending on the size of your pot. When you’re done, pour the tomato sauce mixture over the rolls, only as much as they’re covered and at least two fingers wide under the pot’s rim. You can add some sauce later. Cook for app. two hours in the oven at 170 – 180° C.  Check regularly and add tomato sauce when its level sinks.

It usually tastes better on the next day, after being warmed up (microwave, or oven). You can also freeze some and use later.

Enjoy with a warming side of polenta on a cold day.