How to make Sarma – cabbage leaf parcels

This is batch cooking. Great for winter nights and   freezing. Give yourself a good few hours to do this.

Amounts are to your own taste – there is no measuring here.

You will need 1 very large pan -the kind with handles. They are usually enamel-coated or stainless steel. Here is a Griswold example:

This is to steam your WHOLE hard white cabbage in. So pop it in to a pan of water and bring to the boil. Add a drop of vinegar if you like. Gently simmer it on a low heat for about half an hour, then leave in the pan over night and the entire cabbage will soften.

The following day take out the whole cabbage and drain away the water. Cut the stalk  off and gently peel away each leaf from the bottom and layer the leaves on to a plate -go as far as seems sensible. Then in the same pan drizzle some olive oil and a splash of water. Chop up the remainder of the cabbage and place in the bottom. This will act as a safety layer and stop the parcels burning during their slow long cook.

The Stuffing:

1 large onion

6 garlic cloves

Vegetable stock or better still Vegeta


Arborio rice

Turkey or pork mince – not beef

If vegetarian/vegan just use mushrooms/lentils

In another pan, chop all your onion and garlic and lightly fry in olive oil, add the stock and finely chopped carrots and mince and stir til browned through, Add the rice and some water and bring to boil and simmer for a while til the rice and meat is done. Dot in some tomato puree and paprika – preferably Hungarian and not Spanish

Take each cabbage leaf and cut out the tough stalky bit. Spoon some stuffing on to the leaf and wrap. You’ll get the hang of it as you go.  Keep on going til all parcels are made.

Lay them in the big pan on top of the chopped cabbage. Add some water, paprika and tomato puree. Bring to the boil and simmer on very low for around 2 to 3 hours.

Serve with Polish rye bread. The parcels will last 3 to 4 days or freeze if you’ve had enough. You can also add sauerkraut in to the pot and smoked sausage if you want!

This dish is sometimes served prior to a main course at a winter slava or a big get-together.


There is no set recipe for this dish, it’s all down to how you like it.

Firstly let me explain something about gibanica (gib-an-it-sa). It isn’t eaten as a main course or a starter. It’s rarely eaten with anything else, although it seems some like it with a bit of sour cream. It’s normally served all by itself, either straight after the main course at a slava or other big sit-down meal; or  just with a coffee, followed by a piece of walnut torte or figs and yoghurt.

I didn’t like it as a child – or rather it didn’t like me -eggs and cheese didn’t agree with me. I make it now and then, when the mood takes me. And each one is different.

What you need:

1 large round enamel tevsija. You don’t have one? Then any good-size oven dish will do – a deep one.

1 packet of fresh Greek or Turkish filo pastry – but you will only need to use half the sheets.

Alternately make your own filo! Just a good plain flour, warm water and olive oil – plus patience and working by the feel of the dough. I used to make it with my mother and stretch it over the dining table.

Anyway, let’s carry on.

Pre-heat the oven to pretty hot.

Take a large bowl and in it crack 8 medium-size eggs

Whisk them and add a little salt.

Add approx 250g of butter or margarine or olive spread

Add 250g of cream cheese  low or full-fat

Grate approx 300g of a white crumbly cheese like wensleydale into the bowl

Add around 500ml of milk semi-skimmed or skimmed

Now gently break up the butter and cream cheese in the mixture,whilst stirring round the crumbly cheese and milk. What you should have is a lumpy mixture, not too runny. Taste it, it should be slightly salty.

Oil the base of your oven dish and take two sheets of filo. Place them in the bottom all scrunched up like a range of mountains with peaks. Ladle over some of the mixture.

Put on the next two sheets in the same manner and repeat the ladling. Eight sheets are usually enough. The last two go on top -all the mixture should underneath them.

Take a sheet of greaseproof paper and place on top. Sometimes I line the dish with paper as well.

Pop the gibanica in the oven for 30 minutes. It should rise. Take away the paper for the last 10 minutes to let it brown. The gibanica is normally done after 40 minutes -give it another five if you are not convinced.

I like my gibanica warm, some prefer it straight out of the oven, others stone-cold. Keep it in the fridge and it will last up to three days.

How much should you eat in one sitting? My advice is be sensible -it’s very filling even if you use all low-fat, skimmed-milk ingredients. I’m happy to have a piece for lunch followed by some fruit. A slice at breakfast? Yes, very decadent! It’s a great dish for guests when you’re not in a cake mood and you are savoury (like me) rather than sweet. Enjoy.

St Nick’s 19 December

The Feast of St Nicholas

Cooking with Mama, and Baba

Pinny on, tails trail to the floor

Bowls filled with sumptious ingredients

I dip my finger, then lick, close my eyes,

Delighting in the heaven of vanilla with walnuts,

Juicy, bulbous pearls of barley; smells divine.

Slava bread, large, round

Kissed and blessed by the holy man

Drenched with wine, burned with candle wax

Remembering Serbian clans and tribes

Wanderers from Mongolia, Russia, Armenia;

We are Rom, blue-eyed Gypsy, roses in our hair, our hats.

In our eyes, souls of a travelling past,

Making bread at camps, killing boar for the feast,

Dancing with a spirited moon, laughing at our shadows

Mama and Baba, hands and hearts of the plains

Ceremony of St Nick with love for decades.