My country is known for its splendid mix of cultures, which is why Moldavian national cuisine is quite diverse and rich as well. Moldova is located between different countries, and it took the best peculiar delicacies of each of the neighbours. Cabbage rolls, or how we call them in Moldova - "golubti" and "sarmale", are a good example. They are a popular delicacy in the Balkans, Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, Azerbaijan, Iran, West Asia, and Northern China, but they are an integral part of Moldavian national food culture as well. How do we make them? Why are they so delicious and unusual? I'll let you know below.
Sarmale is a popular dish in Eastern European cuisine, that is made of meat or vegetable mince, mixed with the boiled rice or buckwheat, and wrapped in cabbage or grapes leaves. Different nations fill cabbage rolls with the various stuffings - it depends on the traditions, customs, also, and the region. The name translates to foreign languages in several different ways: from English “cabbage rolls” to French “cabbage cigars” (fr. "cigar au chou"). In Slavic languages, sarmale is called "sarma" or "sarmi". At the same time, Caucasian people usually call cabbage rolls "dolma". Many researchers consider the name "cabbage rolls" to appear under the influence of the popular French food of the XIX century, because back then, they used to feed pigeons with something similar.
Sarmale is a quite simple but at the same time delicate dish to prepare. In the beginning, let me tell you again about our Moldavian hospitality, that I mentioned in this story. Our housewives prepare meals for many people, and as we like to joke - for the whole companies. For eight people, for example, you need one white cabbage and two spoons of oil for the main rolling. For the sauce, you need 800 millilitres of broth, four spoons of sour cream, and three spoons of ketchup. Sarmale filling consists of about 500 grams of minced meat or vegetables, 300 grams of tomatoes, 150 grams of rice, three pieces of garlic, and three carrots. Dill, black pepper, and salt, you can add according to your own tastes. Interesting to know, that the delicious cabbage rolls have only 104 kcal in 100 grams!
And now, let's see how to cook the sarmale. Firstly, separate leaves from the whole cabbage and cut off the thickened part. Afterwards, you need to boil the leaves in salted water for about five minutes until they are soft. For the filling, you need to peel and grate the carrots, and then fry them in the oil. At the same time, let the rice boil until half ready, and run the garlic through the press. Then start to wash tomatoes and grate them. Mix the minced meat, rice, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, dill, salt and pepper, and stir until smooth. On the edge of the cabbage leaf put 1 or 1.5 tablespoons of the filling and roll it as an envelope. Fry the rolls in oil until they are golden brown. For the sauce, mix ketchup with sour cream and broth until they are smooth. Then put the cabbage rolls into a deep pan and pour the sauce to the top of them. The last step is to let the cabbage rolls simmer under the lid for about 40-60 minutes. Voila! Moldavian sarmale is ready!
Just as mamaliga, cabbage rolls are quite widespread among the restaurants and cafes in Chisinau, and Moldova in general. The most popular way to try them is to go to the well-known "La Placinte" restaurant and taste two types of sarmale: rolled in the cabbage leaves, or rolled in the grape leaves. They are often served with the red pepper and, of course, sour cream! The mix of the warm rolls and cold cream is unbelievably tasty! There is no doubt that sarmale is a national delicacy, fully representing the peculiar Moldavian cuisine. Of course, you can also buy them in each supermarket - the cabbage rolls are available there too. It doesn't matter where you taste them, but make sure to try them!
Cover picture © credits to iStock/Janna Danilova
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