So I’ve recently joined a group of bloggers known as Food n’ Flix Club. The concept is pretty fun – each month a member chooses a movie for everyone to create inspired recipes off of and then hosts a round-up of all the members’ creations. The blog Coffee and Casseroles is hosting this month’s round-up featuring the film Hotel Transylvania 2.
In it Count Dracula’s daughter and human son in law have the cutest little red-head baby named Dennis. As a new vamp-pa, Drac struggles with his daughter’s cautious parenting, wanting to bring up his grandson in the old way. Mavis, his daughter, has other ideas — bringing up the child on cheesy human kids’ shows and feeding him avocado because it’s a “good fat”.
The question as the little boy’s fifth birthday quickly approaches, is will his fangs come in as a vampire, or is he bound to be a boring human for the rest of his days? So what better way for our favorite Bela Lugosi impersonator to find out than some good ol’ family meddling?
The film often brings up the dichotomy of tradition and novelty, as well as adapting to the new while still respecting and honoring one’s roots. The old ways are not always the best ways, as we can see with Dracula’s almost deadly attempt to teach Dennis how to fly. Yet there can really be said for the family that uses them to protect each other in a new way when great-vamp-pa Vlad and his murderous cronies enter the picture. It’s the ultimate culture clash as the monsters and humans learn to live and celebrate one another.
This is where I will mention that between the bagels with scream cheese, worm pancakes, and monster ball soup, neither Hotel Transylvania nor its sequel feature any dish or derivation of a dish from Transylvania. Being half-Transylvanian like little Dennis, myself, I wanted to change that.
Half Transylvanian, you say? That’s right folks, both sets of my father’s grandparents came to America from two villages in a mist covered valley near Făgăraș, Romania — smack dab among the Transylvanian Alps. Below is a copy of my grandmother’s recipe for Sarmale — cabbage leaves stuffed with ground pork and beef, then stewed in sauerkraut and ham hocks. She would make this for our family/village reunion every summer and the entire kitchen would smell of bacon and cabbage for hours. There’s a reason why we joke that she ate the last dinosaur…
Now I will admit I didn’t like this recipe much growing up. Stewed cabbage was a bit strong and sour for me at the time. Later on, though, I discovered that cruciferous vegetables such as brussels sprouts and cabbage taste downright amazing when roasted in the oven and allowed to caramelize.
With this in mind, I decided to oven roast the cooked sarmale with a glaze made from honey, red wine vinegar, and sriracha for a crispy, spicy twist on the traditional. Since it would take you about two hours of simmering on the stovetop or in the oven, I added another modern element by using an electric pressure cooker. It reduces stewing time to about 40 minutes. You’ll still want to start making these earlier in the day because softening the cabbage leaves and rolling them takes a bit of time. The flavor even intensifies if you roll them and then cook them the following day.
Normally this recipe uses a plethora of onions and garlic, like most Romanian/Transylvanian cooking is wont to do. I’m pretty sure the vampire garlic sensitivity in folklore stems from that garlic is everywhere in Eastern European cuisine. Not liking it would be the American cultural equivalent of not liking pizza or ice cream. Don’t like garlic? You can’t possibly be human! That said, though, I was mindful of the family allergies and opted to use celery, ginger, and caraway seeds instead for my aromatics.
Top this off with some diced avocado and serve up with with a healthy portion of mamaliga, and you’ve got a meal that marries the old world with the new. Come back to this page on August 30th and I’ll post the link to the Hotel Transylvania 2 recipe link up!
Honey Sriracha Roasted Sarmale with Avocado
Makes 36 rolls
Equipment: Stock pot, stove top, skillet, electric pressure cooker (optional), oven, aluminum foil, baking sheets with raised edges, pastry brush.
- 1 very large head of cabbage
- 1/3 pound bacon
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 3/4 cup parboiled rice
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- black pepper and kosher salt
- 1-quart sauerkraut
- 2 smoked ham hocks
- fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 cup honey
- 1-2 sriracha sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- pinch kosher salt
- 1 California avocado, diced
- Cut the core out of the cabbage. Fill a stockpot with water, leaving at least 4 inches of space on top, and place on a burner on the stovetop. Stir in a pinch of kosher salt and lower the cabbage into the pot. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to simmer.
- While waiting for the pot to boil, mix the ground beef and pork together in a bowl with the water. Set aside.
- Heat a skillet on another burner and fry the bacon until crispy, Move the cooked bacon to a cutting board and pour the rice and celery into the skillet with the bacon grease. Cook and stir until the rice browns. Remove skillet from heat.
- At this point, the cabbage leaves should be softening and falling away from the head. Carefully remove the leaves one by one with a pair of tongs and set them aside on a plate. You’ll need about 18-20 leaves. Lift out the remainder of the cabbage and set aside.
- Crush the bacon into small pieces and add it and the rice-celery mix to the ground meat. Mix thoroughly. Fold in the ginger, caraway seeds, a few dashes of black pepper, and about 2-3 pinches of kosher salt a little at a time.
- Start making the cabbage rolls by slicing the center ribs from each cabbage leaf, separating it into two halves. Discard the rib and repeat process with the rest of the leaves on the plate. Chop up the remainder of the cabbage head and mix with the sauerkraut. Slice pieces of meat off the ham hocks using a sharp knife you don’t mind destroying.
- Place two tablespoons of filling mixture in the middle of the cabbage leaf half. Squeeze the sides of the leaf to form a cylinder. Then fold and roll it as you would roll a burrito. Repeat with the remaining leaves.
- If using the pressure cooker: Put a layer of sauerkraut and chopped cabbage on the bottom, cover with a layer of rolls. Repeat until the top layer of sauerkraut is no less than 2 inches from the max line in the pot. Put any rolls you have leftover in a freezer bag and freeze for later use. Pour in water until it just barely covers the sauerkraut. Add ham hock pieces and fresh thyme sprigs. Cook with lid on high for 40 minutes and release the pressure valve. Preheat oven to 425° F while the pressure releases. Skip to step 10.
- If using the stove top: Drain the cabbage water from the stockpot and discard. Put a layer of sauerkraut and chopped cabbage on the bottom of the pot, cover with a layer of rolls. Repeat until you run out of rolls. Cover the last layer of rolls with sauerkraut and pour in water until it just barely covers the mix. Add ham hock pieces and fresh thyme sprigs. Cover with the lid and cook on low heat for at least two hours. Preheat oven to 425° F when done.
- When the steam has fully released from the pressure cooker, or when the rolls are done cooking on the stove top, remove the lid. Carefully lift out the rolls using a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
- Spray foil-lined baking sheet or sheets with cooking spray. Line up rolls on the sheet. Mix the ingredients for the glaze together in a bowl and brush it onto the rolls. Put sheets into the oven and roast 16-18 minutes, basting the rolls with more sauce every 4 minutes.
- Remove rolls from oven and serve them on a bed of sauerkraut and freshly made mamaliga(optional), and garnish with diced avocado.