Stuffed cabbage rolls with polenta and sour cream are a deliciously light dish. 

    Stuffed cabbage rolls (sarmale) served with polenta (mamaliga) and sour cream


    • Cabbage leaves

    • 2 heads green cabbage
    • 2 x 850g jars sauerkraut, drained and juice reserved
    • Stuffing

    • 750g mix of pork and beef mince
    • 250g smoked streaky bacon or pancetta, finely chopped
    • 60ml (¼ cup) sunflower oil
    • 1 onion, finely chopped
    • 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 200g (1 cup) uncooked rice (Basmati works well)
    • 60ml (¼ cup) hot water
    • 115g tomato paste (optional)
    • 30ml (2 tbsp) fresh dill
    • 10ml (2 tsp) fresh thyme
    • 30ml (2 tbsp) fresh flat-leaf parsley
    • 5ml (1 tsp) paprika or Tabasco sauce (optional)
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • Cooking liquid

    • juice of 2 lemons
    • 1L water + extra if needed, to cover the cabbage rolls
    • 250ml (1 cup) dry white wine
    • 10 black peppercorns
    • 4 bay leaves
    • Between layers

    • 60ml (¼ cup) oil
    • 500g smoked streaky bacon or pancetta
    • 4 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
    • fresh dill
    • Polenta (Mamaliga)

    • 2L water
    • salt, to taste
    • 500g polenta
    • knob of butter
    • 250ml (1 cup) sour cream
    • paprika, to serve
    • 500g feta cheese, crumbled, to serve
    • 250ml (1 cup) sour cream, to serve



    Preheat the oven to 180°C.


    For the cabbage, remove the large outer leaves from the cabbage heads, blanch in boiling water for two minutes and drain. Remove the hard central stems from the leaves, discard the stems and set the leaves aside. Remove the tough core from the remaining inner cabbage hearts. The core goes quite far down, so dig deep and remove as much as possible.


    Heat water in a large pan and place the cabbage heads, hole-side down, into the pan. Cook for two minutes, remove the cabbage heads and drain. Strip the cabbage leaves, one by one, from the core – they should come away easily once they have been cooked. Remove as many as you can and set aside.


    Shred the remaining cabbage heart and mix with the drained sauerkraut. Set aside.


    For the stuffing, mix together the pork and beef mince and the bacon (or pancetta) and set aside.


    Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion, garlic and rice and cook gently, about 10 minutes. Add hot water and simmer until the water has been absorbed. Set aside to cool. Add the meat, tomato paste (optional), dill, thyme, parsley, paprika or Tabasco sauce (optional), and seasoning. Use your hands to mix very well.


    For the cooking liquid, combine the lemon juice, water, wine, black peppercorns and bay leaves. This liquid should be enough to completely cover the stuffed cabbage rolls. If it’s not enough, add more water.


    To stuff the cabbage rolls, stretch open the larger cabbage leaves and add 15ml (1 tbsp) of the stuffing to cover half of each leaf. Keep a distance of approximately two fingers between the edge of the leaf and the filling. Cover the filling with the edge from the base of the cabbage leaf. Fold the two side edges so that the filling is completely enveloped by the leaf, then roll. Repeat until all stuffing has been used.


    Cover the base of a large casserole dish with 30ml (2 tbsp) sunflower oil and add a layer of the drained sauerkraut. Top with a layer of streaky bacon (or pancetta) and tomato slices. Add a layer of stuffed cabbage rolls. Repeat in this order until the casserole dish is almost filled to the top, finishing with a layer of sauerkraut. Sprinkle the dill on top of the final layer of sauerkraut and then pour over the cooking liquid. Finally, cover with the smaller cabbage leaves and the large outer leaves that were set aside. Drizzle with 30ml (2 tbsp) sunflower oil, cover with foil or a lid, place on the stove and simmer gently, about 10 minutes.


    Put the casserole dish in the preheated oven and cook for 2 hours. Remove the foil or lid and cook for another hour, uncovered. Ensure that there is enough liquid, adding water if necessary. Remove the outer cabbage leaves and cook for another hour. Again, make sure there is enough liquid. Remove the stuffed cabbage rolls from the casserole dish and set aside until ready to serve.


    For the polenta, add the water and salt to a pot. Slowly add the polenta over a medium heat until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and sour cream.


    Serve hot. Preheat bowls and fill with the cooked cabbage rolls topped with a little paprika and crumbled feta cheese. Serve with polenta and sour cream.


    To drink: Heritage Heroes The Brew Master 2009.