Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Romania. There’s just something wonderful about just about everything that country has to offer. The people are friendly, funny and fiercely intelligent, both countryside and city center have something spectacular to offer and of course… there’s the food.
Ever since I travelled to Romania for the first time way back in April 2016 I have been obsessed with the food, everything from Ciorba de Legume (sour vegetable soup), through Fasole bătută cu ceapă călită (beaten white beans topped with a beautiful cooked onion and garlic mix) but nothing has ever fixated me quite so much as Sarmale.
Sarmale are rolls, commonly cooked 1 of 2 ways: in cabbage leaves, or in vine leaves (like a dolma) but I have always partaken in the former, as that is how Buni cooks them. Yes Buni. My grandmother in law, possibly the greatest cook in the entire world; who is personally responsible both for the additional kilograms that I bring back to the UK, as much as the smile and pure satisfaction you can feel surrounding me after every instance of me stuffing myself silly with her wonderful food.
Traditionally they are cooked: a) with a meat filling and b) on a combination of the hob and oven – but I’m a busy vegan, I’ve got stuff to do and vegetables to eat, so it would be nice if I could prep them and just let them go!
Fortunately there’s a very common fasting period (Post) in Romania where religious people will often eat foods containing no animal products (fără produse de origine animală) and these dishes are referred to as de post. The Sarmale de post then, usually contain a mixture of rice and mushrooms, with some carrots and tomato paste etc. and it is this version (obviously) that we’re going to make. Caveat: mine are not as good as Buni’s, obviously, but it did for a brief time make our house smell like hers when she cooks and I think it made us all feel a little closer to our family in Romania, even if we can’t currently get abroad to see them.
I googled a fair bit and fortunately my Romanian is getting “ok-enough” now to understand the recipes at least, so I was able to cobble together a group of ideas and put them together into 1 final recipe which has actually worked out pretty well for me so far – and just look at these beauties:
The key of course to this is good preparation and good quality ingredients – but there are 2 parts to this that are kind of tricky if you don’t have access to Romanian ingredients specifically:
- The cabbage leaves
- The cimbru
You can of course make your own preserved cabbage leaves but it’s sooooooo much easier to buy them – and the other ingredient cimbru, is even harder. This is because we don’t really use the same thing here in the UK. Cimbru occasionally online translates as thyme but I wouldn’t recommend substituting thyme into this recipe in it’s place, it’s actually known as Summer Savory. So, if you can’t (unlike me) find the preserved cabbage and cimbru helpfully at an Eastern European food shop in a neighboring town – thank you so much Grosik, Huntingdon! – then you can probably use Herbs de Provence instead, but it won’t be the same! You can also get proper rice specifically for Sarmale, but equally a short grain rice will work just as well.
There are 4 distinct stages to the process for making Sarmale de post in the slow cooker:
1 – Chopping and Prep – there’s quite a lot of chopping that goes into this, and it takes me around 30 minutes to make sure it’s all correct, I’m sure you can do it faster, but this is how I roll
2 – Cooking the mushrooms – I use both chestnut mushrooms and dried wild mushrooms to give it a really mushroom-y flavor, so the dried mushrooms need to be soaked and the chestnut mushrooms need to be cooked.
3 – Mixing everything together and then filling the leaves to make rolls – as you fill the rolls you’ll want to chop cabbage from the sides of the cabbage leaf, both to make it a good square for the rolling and to have a bed of cabbage at the bottom and top of the slow cooker
4 – Piling everything into the slow cooker and making sure you have enough space!
If you make these please let me know how you get on because for me this recipe is still evolving – the Sarmale will last for up to a week in the fridge and you can heat a few of them each day for dinner, normally we have 2 or 3 each (microwaved) and serve them with Mămăligă (Romanian Polenta) and Alpro No Sugar Soya Yogurt.
Poftă bună! (Bon Appetit!)
Sarmale de post la slow cooker
Live your best Romanian life with these delicious VG/GF cabbage rolls and don't blame me if your house smells DELICIOUS.
- 1 x 1600g (net) Jar Preserved Cabbage Leaves (Varza Murata)
- 750g Chestnut Mushrooms (Ciuperci)
- 1 x <40g pot dried Mixed or Porcini Mushrooms
- 200g Sarmale or Short-Grain Rice, thoroughly rinsed (Orez)
- 200g Tomato Paste (Pasta de Tomate)
- 2 large Brown Onions (Cepe)
- 2 medium or 4 small Carrots (Morcovi)
- 1 medium Red Bell Pepper (Ardei)
- 2-3 heaped tablespoons very finely-chopped fresh Parsley (Patrunjel)
- 1 heaped tablespoon Cimbru or 1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
- 1 tablespoon sweet Paprika (Boia)
- 1 heaped tablespoon Salt (Sare)
- 1/2-3/4 tablespoon Black Pepper (Piper)
- 1 teaspoon dried Basil (Busuioc)
- 1 teaspoon Oregano (Uh… Oregano)
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Granules (granule de usturoi) (Optional)
- 1 tablespoon neutral Oil, like Rapeseed (Ulei) (Optional – for cooking)
Additionally for the Slow-Cooker:
- 2 heaped tablespoons Cimbru or Herbs de Provence
- 5 Bay Leaves (Foi de Dafin)
- 1 teaspoon sweet Paprika (Boia)
- 3 tablespoons neutral Oil, like Rapeseed (Ulei) (Optional)
- 750ml Hot Water (Apa fierbinte) or Mushroom Stock (Optional – to enhance the Mushroom flavor)
- Chop EVERYTHING very small, much smaller than I did! – the carrots, onions and bell pepper should be finely diced and added to a bowl with the washed rice and then set aside – into a separate bowl finely chop the chestnut mushrooms.
- Follow the instructions on the dried mushrooms to rehydrate them and at the same time cook the chopped mushrooms on a medium-high heat in a non-stick pan (or in a pan using the optional cooking oil) until they have released most of their water and shrunk significantly (about 5-6 minutes), drain if needed.
- Finely chop the soaked mushrooms, reserving the soaking water aside.
- Mix the chopped cooked and soaked mushrooms into the bowl with the rice and other veggies, along with all of the herbs, spices, salt/pepper and 100g of the tomato paste (reserve the other half for later) you should have a mixture that mostly holds itself together but is not overly wet.
- Open the cabbage and spread it on a cutting board, trim the edges to make it square and reserve the cuttings (cabbage strips) to the side (be generous with the cuttings, you will need enough to cover the top and bottom of the Sarmale).
- Put 1 tablespoon of your mixture on the cabbage leaf and roll up, tucking the sides in as you roll to seal it and then set the roll to the side.
- Repeat 5 & 6 until either all the mixture or cabbage leaves have been used – if you have leftover cabbage, chop it into strips and use it for the topping (below), if you have leftover mixture freeze it for up to 6 months for when you next make Sarmale.
- When finished rolling – take half of the cabbage cuttings and spread it on the bottom of a medium-large slow-cooker and top with 3 (well spread apart) bay leaves and 1 of the 2 tablespoons of Cimbru/Herbs.
- Stack the Sarmale as neatly as possible on top of the cabbage cuttings, creating layers as you go.
- Top the Sarmale with the remaining cabbage cuttings and 2 remaining bay leaves, then sprinkle over the remaining Cimbru/Herbs and the teaspoon of paprika.
- Mix the remaining 100g of tomato paste with the water or stock and a few tablespoons of the mushroom soaking water to preference (it should be around 850-900ml in total in the measuring jug, don’t worry if you’re over but add a little more if you’re under) and then pour this over the Sarmale in the slow cooker.
- Optionally, if using, add the 3 tablespoons of oil on top.
- Set the slow cooker to low, cover and leave for 6-7 hours.
- Serve hot with polenta or allow to cool and freeze for up to 6 months (always thaw completely and heat thoroughly before eating later)
The world is a pretty crazy place at the moment so hopefully this post inspires you, and we would love to hear what you’re cooking and also we’d love to see your attempts at the above dish and how you change it to be yours, so tweet us @rockinblues and @PlantBasedSQL on Twitter and let us know your snug story!