While I was in college, in Sydney, away from home, the idea of cabbage rolls in olive oil or manti (sorta Turkish ravioli) would always bring that homesickness monster out which would torment me for a few hours once it stroke. Those few hours would then result in attempts of making one of the core traditional dishes of Turkish cuisine. None would turn out perfect, not even close, thanks to the ingredient quality! Still, it would be enough to calm me for a few months until another homesickness attack arrived. Last week, thinking of those days, I felt very grateful for being able to find the perfect cabbages for rolling these gorgeous sarma in the picture. No veins, lots of thin large leaves which beautifully held the rice filling… What more could I ask for? Here is how I made the sarma:
1 small cabbage, make sure it is not too veiny, thick and wrinkly
3-4 liters of boiling water
4-5 medium size onions, finely cut
1/2 + 1/2 cup of olive oil, virgin
A handful of pine nuts
3 cups of rice, adjust depending on how many rolls you’ll make, keep in mind that each tablespoon of rice makes 2 normal thickness sarma
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon
2 tablespoons of sugar
2+1 teaspoons of salt (for the filling+water)
A handful of dried black currants
1/2 cup of fresh dill leaves, washed and chopped finely
1/2 cup of fresh basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup of fresh coriander, finely chopped
1/4 cup of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
4.5 cups of water, 1.5 times the amount of rice, adjust if need be
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Carefully remove outer layers of the cabbage, until you reach the unmanageable core. Boil the outer layers in a pot for 5 minutes. Remove the leaves from boiling water and drain.
Now we’ll prepare the filling: Heat 1/2 cup of olive oil in a pot and cook onions and pine nuts for 5 minutes. Then add rice, all the spices, sugar and 2 teaspoons of salt, keep stirring on low heat. Rice will absorb the juices of onions and become translucent. Add black currants and herbs. Mix well and remove from the heat.
While the filling cools off, arrange the cabbage leaves. Cut them into hand size pieces, either rectangular, triangular or square, doesn’t matter much as long as they are roll-able.
Make a wide steel pot ready (olive oil dishes turn out way better in steel ware). Line spare cabbage pieces at the bottom of the pot.
On a clean and flat surface start rolling out the cabbages. Lay one piece of cabbage leaf on the surface and place 1/2 tablespoon of rice filling on one end, fold three sides (1-2 cms on each side) and roll. There is no single straight rule to do this. Go as you please. You can make samosa-like triangles, big fat rolls or thinner ones. You can even skip rolling the sides and just make sushi-like rolls.
Line cabbage rolls into the pot, tightly, but do not squeeze. Place a flat plate right onto the rolls to keep them in place. Add water, remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and lemon juice, bring to boil. Cover and turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, almost like candlelight, cook until the rice absorbs all the water and is cooked. Add more boiling water if needed and cook further. Remove from the heat when both rice and cabbage are cooked and soft. Let sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours, in the same pot with the lid on. The next day, remove cabbage rolls from the steel pot and serve with lemon, parsley leaves or dill.