The Peasant Chef: Sarma

So I’m a foodie, but I’m no Chef. My husband was a Chef, working in some of the most prestigious restaurants in London, but sadly I prefer eating the food to making it.

Fortunately for me, although not blessed with culinary talents, I am blessed with an ethnic background. My family migrated from Croatia and brought some amazing recipes with them to which we have all held onto dearly.

One of the most common recipes in Croatian cuisine is Sarma or cabbage rolls. Known as ‘peasant’ food, these rolls are stuffed with minced pork and spices and cooked in a delicate but flavoursome stock.

Don’t confuse them with those sour little things you find squashed into the back of the supermarket deli case in the antipasti section… These are nothing like that. A foolproof recipe, bursting with flavour and perfect for those times when you want some comfort food or to look like the gourmet European chef!



2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 – 1.5 kg pork mince
4 ounces smoked meat, minced – optional
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons Vegeta
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 head of cabbage (leaves intact)
1 – 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water (or enough liquid to come three-quarters of the way up)
2 cups shredded sauerkraut*

(Makes around 30 cabbage rolls)


Finding good sauerkraut can be a challenge, if you don’t have someone in the family who makes it, hit up your local Eastern European delis or do as I do and boil an entire cabbage in vinegar and water until tender.


  1. To prepare the leaves, tear the leaves gently from the core, ensuring that the whole leaf is intact. Trim the vein that runs down the length of the leaf by running your knife down either side of the vein. This aids in the folding process later on.
  2. In a small, non-stick frying pan, heat the oil and sweat the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, cook until fragrant and then add the smoked paprika. Cook for another minute and set aside to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, add the minced pork, ground smoked meat (if you decide to), rice, egg, Vegeta, salt and pepper. Once the onion mixture has cooled slightly, add it to the mixing bowl. Using your hands, gently combine all of the ingredients. Be careful not to overwork the mixture, as overworking pork will make the filling tough.
  4. In a stockpot with a lid, layer half of the shredded sauerkraut in the bottom of the pot. To assemble the cabbage rolls, grab a small handful of the meat filling and place it at the bottom of the cabbage leaf. Roll up the filling in the leaf and tuck in the edges by pushing the ends into the filling.
  5. You may have to tuck in as you roll up if you have tougher leaves, as these leaves will be thicker and not as flexible. In the end, you don’t want to see and filling; the cabbage should completely enclose the filling from all sides.
  6. Place the completed cabbage rolls over the shredded sauerkraut, fitting them in as snugly as possible. Add the diced tomatoed and in a thin layer over the cabbage rolls and add the remaining shredded sauerkraut. Pour in the chicken stock, ensuring that it reaches three-quarters of the way up. Cover the stockpot with a lid and bring to a light simmer for 1 1-2 to 2 hours.
  7. The cooking juices, stock, tomatoes and shredded sauerkraut should break down into a glistening sauce to drizzle over the rolls. Best served with a side of sliced smoked sausage and lashings of creamy mashed potatoes.