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This recipe comes from my Bosnian father. It would be made in the winter when tightly packed white cabbages were in season. The cabbage leaves are used to wrap a filling of meat and rice, which is then cooked in tomatoes and stock and finally thickened with a brown roux. We always made Sarma a couple of days before wanting to eat it as the flavour is so much richer after time.
Now that I no longer eat meat I have been experimenting with vegetarian fillings for the cabbage rolls, after a couple of tries which tasted good enough but didn’t hold together like the consistency of the original versión, I turned to textured soya, which is a bit on the sweet side, but with the addition of seasonings and an egg to bind it, it worked well.

For 2 servings

1 large white cabbage

400 gram tin peeled or chopped plum tomatoes

1/2 red pepper – chopped into small cubes

1 – 2 litres vegetable stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper

MEAT FILLING per person

150 grams minced beef or lamb

1/4 onion – finely chopped

1 clove gárlic – finely chopped

50 grams long grain rice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

VEGETARIAN FILLING per person

50 grams texturised soya – soaked in water for 20 minutes and then drained, or as instructed on the packet if different from the brand I used.

50 grams long grain rice

3 sun dried tomatoes – chopped into medium chunks

1 teaspoon/ 5 ml marmite

1 teaspoon / 5 ml Maggi Wurze

1 small egg

salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE SAUCE

2 tablespoons / 30 ml plain flour

2 tablespoons / 30 ml olive oil

You need to start with the cabbage. Put a pan of water on to boil in which the cabbage can fit whole, bear in mind that you are going to submerge the cabbage, so not so much water that it will spill over once the cabbage is in it.
Remove any dirty or damaged outer leaves from the cabbage. Make a cut in the base of the stem of the next outer leaf to release it from the main stem, then the following one. You may find that the first few leaves will come off the cabbage easily without being damaged, if not put the cabbage in the boiling water to blanch them and separate the leaves. One by one cut the leaves at the base to loosen them and then put the cabbage in the boiling water to remove them without any damage. You are wanting 2-3 leaves per person.

Once you have enough leaves, and maybe a spare or two, put them two or three at a time in the boiling water for about three minutes each until they become slightly translucent and a more pliable texture, then drain them and let them cool.

Next, to help the leaves roll nicely, get a potato peeler and shave off the outer ridge of the leaf base until it’s thin and flexible.

Now prepare your fillings. Whichever version you are making put all the ingredients for it in a bowl and mix well. Form your mix into two or three fat sausage shapes per person, squeezing the mix together so that it holds its shape.

Put each sausage into a cabbage leaf and roll the leaf around the filling.

To secure the rolls, tuck the ends inwards starting in the centre and tucking in round and round until you have a neat roll.

Put all your rolls into a pan where they will fit in one layer. They don’t want to be too tightly packed as they will expand.

Add the chopped tomatoes, red pepper and enough vegetable stock to cover the rolls.

Bring to a simmer, turn the heat down very low and cook slowly for an hour and a quarter. Check the liquid level from time to time and add more stock if needed.

Let the dish cool for half an hour, then carefully take out the parcels and transfer them to another dish leaving the sauce in the pan. I put mine into an ovenproof dish in which I was going to reheat them the next day.

To thicken the sauce you are going to make a brown roux. Put the oil and flour in a small frying pan, mix together to blend, then on a medium heat cook the roux stirring all the time until it caramelises and turns a medium nut brown.

Turn off the heat and add the tomato sauce from the Sarma a bit at a time and mix well to blend. With the first spoonful the roux will go thick and dry looking, don’t worry, keep adding the sauce and all will be well.

Once you have added enough of the tomato sauce to have a liquid, tip this into the pan of tomatoes in which you cooked the Sarma and heat the sauce to thicken it stirring all the time.

You can now replace the cabbage parcels, reheat the dish for 15 minutes and serve it, or pour the sauce over the parcels in an ovenproof dish and leave to cool, to be then reheated in the oven the next day or the day after that.