When I posted my previous sarma recipe on my Facebook page, I got some suggestions for alternative versions. There are tens, maybe even hundreds of ways you can prepare it only on the Balkans, imagine how many more there may be in Turkey or in the Arab world. I am sure many of them are irresistibly delicious and some are definitely part of the national cuisine dogmas of the various countries throughout the region.
I may have mentioned it before but I hate to follow recipes to the last letter and neither should you. The more often you are able to surprise yourself, the better. Tonight I was in for an unexpected surprise. In the last few days I managed to find whole sauerkraut leaves on the Spanish market and I was finally about to make Bulgarian sarmi just like my grandma used to make them. Until I noticed I didn’t have enough rice. That was the moment when nostalgia gave way to good old adventurism. I took a look at my kitchen stand and the next suitable thing for a filling turned out to be Moroccan couscous.
Mixing ingredients from different cuisine types may sound too risky but it’s actually nothing new – half of the products you would describe as native to your country originally came from somewhere else, sometimes thousands of miles away. The only reason you consider them national is because someone in the past dared to experiment and… succeeded.
So there I was with a pile of glittering sauerkraut leaves and a package of couscous, thinking what other insult I can add to the injury of twisting my culinary heritage beyond recognition. I opted for peanuts, soy sauce and nutmeg.
Filling: 300g couscous, 300g champignon mushrooms, 2 onions (bulbs), fresh green onion, fresh green garlic, a handful of peeled peanuts, whole black pepper grains, nutmeg, soy sauce, vegetable (olive or sunflower) oil, 1-2 sauerkraut leaves (usually those who aren’t suitable for rolling)
Wrapping: Whole sauerkraut leaves (about 20-30 pieces)
Sauce: yogurt, crushed garlic, olive oil, salt, dill
In case you can’t find sauerkraut leaves, you can use fresh cabbage leaves following the method explained in the previous recipe. Needles to say, you can replace any of the ingredients above with ones of your liking, usually on the Balkans sarmi are prepared as a vegetarian dish only on Christmas, on all other occasions minced meat is a substantial part of the filling. If you insist on consuming minced meat, you can replace the mushrooms with it.
Preparation of the Filling
It would be handy to begin in an organized way. Cut the onion bulbs, the fresh onions, the fresh garlic and the mushrooms in tiny little pieces. Do the same with the 1 or 2 sauerkraut leaves that you put aside from the rest especially for the filling. Then crush the black pepper grains and the peanuts with a suitable tool.
Put the couscous in a large bowl. If your sauerkraut leaves come with juice (which is the likely scenario), pour 300 ml of it in the bowl. Alternatively, you can use water for the same purpose. Leave the couscous aside to absorb the liquid while you prepare the rest of the filling.
With everything handy, heat up the oil and start adding the ingredients. First come the cut onion bulbs. Saute them for a while until they start to turn golden. Then add the crushed peanuts, black pepper grains and mushrooms. Leave them to fry for a while and stir occasionally. Pour some sauerkraut juice (or water) occasionally to the mixture to prevent it from sticking. Add soy sauce as well. Remember that soy sauce is salty, so use your own judgement about the quantity. After the mushrooms are fully cooked, add the cut sauerkraut leaves, the fresh onions, the garlic and sprinkle some powdered nutmeg on top.
When the mixture cools down a bit, add the couscous and stir well. Now you’re ready to roll.
Let the Wrapping Begin
Wrapping sauerkraut leaves is much easier than fresh cabbage leaves, so you shouldn’t have problems at all, especially if you already tried the previous recipe.
First, prepare the pot. Spread 2-3 sauerkraut leaves on the bottom to form a blanket. Then start rolling the individual sarmi by putting a spoon (or two if the leaf is very large) of the filling in the middle, then wrapping the rest of the leaf over it. Start placing the sarmi in the pot one by one, position them tightly next to each other, so the boiling water won’t be able to move them around. When there is no place on the bottom, make another layer on top and continue piling more sarmi until you wrap them all. At the end, place a large, heavy dish on top to press the sarmi and prevent them from moving and unwrapping accidentally. It’s best of the diameter of the dish is slightly smaller than the one of the pot, so it can fit well inside it. Pour the rest of the sauerkraut juice (or water) in the pot until the liquid reaches the level of the dish. Cook everything on medium fire for about 40 minutes.
Serve sprinkled with paprika and topped with the yogurt sauce. Add some guindilla peppers on the side.