Sarma at Cafe Pita +
Last week Robb Walsh wrote about an excellent stuffed cabbage he had at the home of a Bosnian friend, and it led to a semi-lively conversation about the various forms of the dish. While we all know that Houston is a metaphorical mutt -- a mixed-breed city -- I'm always pleasantly surprised when I hear the pride-filled nostalgia that accompanies talk of certain regional cuisines. Of course we see multitudes of ethnic foods around town, but Eastern European is not an everyday find.
Sarma is the Serbian version of stuffed cabbage rolls. Czechs and Slovaks call them holubky, and Poles refer to them as golabki, but they all boil down to the same thing: meat and rice tightly rolled in a cabbage leaf and stewed for several hours. Café Pita +, the outstanding Bosnian restaurant out Westheimer, serves a fabulous sarma. Or you can make it at home with my grandmother's Serbian recipe below. Keep in mind, though, that it is virtually impossible to make a small serving of sarma. Traditionally, a pot is made for an entire extended family, and they eat the heartwarming fare happily in close proximity. We encourage you to do the same. Prijatno!
Add vinegar to a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Remove cabbage cores, then cook in deep boiling water five minutes. Drain, and then carefully peel off leaves to separate. Each leaf has a thick central stem; when cool enough to handle, pare it down with a knife so that it can be folded and wrapped more easily. Set cabbage aside.
Sauté green pepper, onion, celery, and garlic in butter until limp. Add to ground meat, along with seasonings, uncooked rice, eggs, milk, and ¼ cup tomato soup. Mix well. Place small handful of meat mixture on the middle of each cabbage leaf. Fold over left side, roll fairly tightly, and tuck in right side to secure the roll. Layer rolls in a deep kettle, adding sauerkraut and tomato soup between layers. Add ham hock and enough water to cover rolls. Simmer 2 ½ - 3 hours on stovetop. Serve hot with a dab of sour cream on top. Serves 10-12.
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