Photographer's Note

Second in this food series comes the traditional Romanian Christmas dish I've been promising for a few days: the sarmale or sarmalute (the diminutive form which is quite commonly used). The sarmale are a kind of stuffed cabbage or stuffed grape leaves. I believe the word itself is of Turkish origin, at least that's how it sounds to me.

For the Christmas feast, the cabbage is traditionally preferred over the grape leaves. Also traditionally, sour or pickled cabbage is used, a.k.a. sourcrout. Romanian families traditionally pickle cabbage in the fall as a storage method for the winter months. Even in the recent decades, with the freezers becoming so popular, or more recently, with the supermarkets providing "fresh" fruits and vegetables brought in from far away with a high fuel cost and significant damage to the environment, Romanians kept this tradition. Well... one of the perks of doing so is the deliciousness of a well-pickled cabbage. So, every mid to late October, traditionally around the time when the feast of St. Dimitrie is celebrated (October 26th) Romanians set up their cabbage pickling barells.

Thin cabbage sheets without thick parts are selected and washed (this removes some of the sodium and it can also soften its sour flavor). The filling is prepared with mainly ground pork, mixed with raw rice and lightly caramelized chopped onions, black pepper, juniper berry spice and some water. Small cylindrically-shaped sarmale are made by wrapping a large teaspoon full of meat filling in those thin cabbage sheets. In my case (first attempt at pickling cabbage as well as making the dish) they came out much bigger than they should but the result was not bad at all. The remaining sheets are chopped into noodle like shapes and used as the bottom and top layers in the cooking pot. Between them the sarmale are arranged in a few relatively tightly packed layers. Each layer is abundantly sprinkled with chopped dill, savory and a few bay leaves. After adding some water and some tomato sauce the whole thing is cooked and that's about it. The flavor doesn't only depend on the quality of the pickled cabbage and the use of the right ingredients but it seems to depend on the size of the sarmale and the way the flavors mix and infuse everything during cooking.

I made no effort about plating the final dish. This photo was taken on the second day of the Christmas feast when I came back from work (couldn't take the day off although I was on my way to losing two weeks of vacation time). They can be eaten topped with sour cream (see the workshop photo) and are the best when accompanied by mamaliga a cornmeal dish that I may present in another posting in the future. Romanians love to eat every dish accompanied by bread or this cornmeal dish, some tasty and inexpensive good-sources of sugars and fiber.

I took the time to come up with all this and hope somebody out there will enjoy reading it.

Buin, worldcitizen, atlantida, mihaela_hk, maloutim has marked this note useful

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Additional Photos by Iulian Rujan (Iuli) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 134 W: 120 N: 221] (838)
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