If you want to eat healthy wholesome meat dishes, the best time to visit Serbia is the winter – the amount of tempting homemade food makes you fat just by looking at it!
One of the most popular winter dishes is stuffed cabbage leaves and I am sure you are thinking this must be easy as it reminds you of stuffed peppers which are popular in the UK and very easy to make, but stuffed cabbage leaves have a special twist as the cabbage has to be prepared in a special way which only mothers can do. The younger generation, which I would like to count myself in, just buy ready prepared cabbage from the supermarket which we stuff with minced meat with and the job is done! But when my mum cooks stuffed cabbage leaves, the whole process begins at one of the many food markets in Belgrade (my mum knows that potatoes are much cheaper at Zemun food market and that the best cabbage is found at Bajlonova market). I do accompany my mother on occasional trips and get dazzled by the neat displays of bright colours, and get carried away and buy a bit of everything which really annoys my mum – she buys food not for the colour but for what she is cooking that day.
Choosing the right cabbages is an art in itself. They must be round, firm, with big healthy leaves, which can peel away easily – check that by pulling off one of the outside leaves, and if it breaks, it means the cabbage won’t work for wrapping around the meat. At home cut out the core of the cabbages and fill the cavities with salt. Yes, salt. Then you lay the salt-filled cabbages neatly in a wooden barrel (which gives a much better taste than if you use a plastic bucket), filling the spaces between them with cabbage quarters, and put it somewhere cold like the cellar. Fill the barrel with water almost to the top, bearing in mind that the volume of the cabbages will shrink, then put a heavy object on the top to press the cabbages. My mum uses a ‘house rock’ she brought back from the mountain near Arandjelovac during one of our weekend trips when we were kids and she has only ever used it in the preparation of cabbage – it is her domestic treasure!
Leave the cabbages to soak and press in the wooden barrel for a week, keeping the rock clean and cleaning the foam that gathers on the top of the water every day. Top up the water level and add more salt – generally, use 2kg of salt for every 30kg of cabbage! After a week of this, your cabbage leaves will be ready to stuff – the recipe will be in my next blog!