21 February 2013

Beef sarma

After a few weeks of focusing on baking, I thought it is time to do some cooking. Some time ago, I purchased a large jar of sour cabbage leaves from a Turkish shop in London and with Winter on its way out (fingers crossed!), I thought it would be good to make a hearty Winter dish.

Originally I was planning to make the sarma entirely vegetarian, but as Lundulph needs meat, I decided to make a beef mixture filling. I also thought some iron boost might be good, so I decided to also add some liver. According to Lundulph, "beef" liver is the best one nutritionally. I think he spent some time researching this on the internet last year, while I was in Sweden. It's good for B12 vitamin.Of course there is no such thing as beef liver, but calf liver or ox liver. I opted for the former and wandered to our butcher's. As many times before, they seem to anticipate what I will ask for and had 300 g portions nicely vacuum packed and appealingly presented in the window display.
There was also a bottle of Faustino I from 1994. A precious bottle we'd saved through various house moves, to drink at a special occasion, only to find it corked. As always, I don't like to throw things away, so I put a wine saver on it and pumped out the air and put the bottle in the larder for a cooking opportunity.
0.5 dl grapeseed oil
2 onions
2 - 3 carrots
2 cloves of garlic
130 g calf liver
500 g lean beef mince
150 g pearl barley
7 dl red wine
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried rosemary
1.5 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried dill
2 tsp dried savory
2 tsp dried mint
salt and black pepper to taste
1 tbsp granulated sugar
150 g parboiled girolles
350 g canned sliced button mushrooms
10 - 12 soured cabbage leaves
Bechemel sauce
1 dl grapeseed oil
1 dl plain flour
1 tsp salt
0.5 tsp black pepper
0.5 tsp grated nutmeg
5 dl milk
the liquid from the canned mushrooms
the liquid from the sarma
more milk or water if necessary
  1. Peel and dice the onions and carrots. Peel the garlic and pre-heat the oil in a large deep frying pan.
  2. Add the onion and carrots to the oil and press in the garlic and let fry for a few minutes until they go soft. Stir occasionally.
  3. In the mean time, dice the liver as finely as possible, then add to the onions and carrots, followed by the mince. Stir vigorously to prevent lumps.
  4. Rinse the pearl barley and once the meat has browned, add it to the pan and stir in, then add the wine and all the herbs.
  5. Season with salt and black pepper, but careful with the salt as soured cabbage tends to be quite salty.
  6. Stir in the sugar, then cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. Check the filling and taste the pearl barley for readiness. If it looks dry, add some more water and let simmer for a further 15 minutes.
  8. Prepare the soured cabbage leaves on a plate. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.
  9. Just before taking the filling off the heat, stir in the mushrooms.
  10. Take some of the filling and place in the middle of a soured cabbage leaf, then fold the leaf around to make a packet and place it in an oven-proof dish with a lid. Place the packet so the cabbage folds are at the bottom, so that it doesn't unfold.
  11. Bake for at least an hour.
  12. When the sarma are ready, make the bechemel sauce by heating up the oil in a saucepan.
  13. Mix together flour, salt, black pepper and nutmeg, then add the flour and fry with the oil for a few minutes, stirring constantly.
  14. Pour in the milk, a little at a time, while continuing to stir. It will lump together and look like a dough, but will get runnier as more liquid is added. Once the initial 5 dl of milk have been added, continue with the mushroom liquid and also carefully pour in the liquid from the sarma.
  15. If the sauce still looks thick, add more milk or water to reach the desired consistency.
I don't often use liver and I've only had calf liver once to my knowledge - many years ago when I was maybe 14 and my Gran made me eat it. Lundulph did warn me that it has a stronger flavour than liver from other animals and he was right, it smelt quite strongly of liver while I was dicing it. I had planned to use more than 130 g, but it was very spongy to the touch, hard to cut and I didn't like the smell much - because I was forced to eat it all those years ago. I have similar issues with camomile.
However, the filling turned out rather nice, the liver contributed to the mixture of flavours, rather than overpowering everything. Lundulph was quite pleased with it too.
I actually didn't have enough soured cabbage leaves and used up only about two-thirds of the mixture. I froze the remainder to use as pie filling in the future. And I'm happy to have used up the corked wine. It had started to turn into vinegar a little, but was perfectly fine in the sarma.

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