Bulgarian Zelevi Sarmi, or stuffed cabbage leaves, is a heartwarming and traditional dish that features tender cabbage leaves filled with a savory combination of rice, minced meat, and herbs, then slowly cooked to create a satisfying and flavorful meal. These rolls can be enjoyed as a main course or a substantial side dish, particularly during colder months.
Preparation time: Approximately 1 hour, plus 1 hour 30 minutes of cooking time
Ingredients (for four people)
- 12 large cabbage leaves (approximately 600g)
- 200g uncooked white rice
- 300g minced meat (pork, beef, or a combination)
- 1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped (approximately 100g)
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 500ml tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
- 500ml water or vegetable broth for cooking
Method to prepare
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the cabbage leaves and blanch them for 3-4 minutes or until softened. Drain the leaves and rinse them under cold water to cool. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat the sunflower oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté until softened and translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the minced meat to the saucepan and cook until browned, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks.
- Stir in the rice, minced garlic, chopped parsley, dill, mint, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- To assemble the stuffed cabbage leaves, place a heaping tablespoon of the rice and meat mixture near the bottom of the cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom edge of the leaf over the filling, then fold in the sides and roll the leaf up to form a small parcel. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
- Combine the tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes in a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven and the water or vegetable broth. Arrange the stuffed cabbage leaves seam-side down in the sauce, placing them close together in a single layer. If needed, create a second layer on top of the first.
- Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the saucepan, and simmer for 1 hour 30 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the cabbage leaves are tender.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the stuffed cabbage leaves to cool slightly before serving.
Tips and Tricks
- If the cabbage leaves are thick or challenging, you can use a sharp knife to carefully trim away some of the vast central ribs before blanching.
- For a vegetarian version, substitute the minced meat with an equal amount of cooked, crumbled mushrooms or grated zucchini.
- The stuffed cabbage leaves can also be cooked in a slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours or until the rice is cooked and the cabbage leaves are tender.
Bulgarian stuffed cabbage leaves can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat, place the rolls in a saucepan with a splash of water or broth, cover, and gently heat on low until warmed through.