If you're a fan of Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) then you are going to love Varza a la Cluj. Varza a Cluj or literally translated as Cluj type Cabbage is a layered baked cabbage casserole. Traditionally, this dish is not vegan, although in recent times the vegan version of Varza a la Cluj became more popular during traditional fasting times in Romania.
Nevertheless, we wanted to create a delicious vegan baked cabbage casserole which follows the flavours of the original Varza a la Cluj and tell you a little bit about its origins.
Varza a la Cluj - A brief history
Varza a la Cluj has an old recorded history and it was originally called Kolozsvári rakott káposzta. The recipe first appeared in 1695 in a dedicated cookbook from Cluj printed by Miklos Misztotfalusi, the most important printer from Transylvanian region. This cookbook became a best seller at the time.
However, as it turns out, Mr Misztotfalusi was not the original inventor of the recipe, he was the mere messenger. The manuscripts of the original recipe lead back to a monastery in Şumuleu Ciuc, which, back then, was the largest Catholic institution in Transylvania. Several historians believe that one of the monks might have written the manuscript for the Varza a la Cluj recipe.
So does Varza a la Cluj actually originated in Cluj? The current historical evidence points out to the Şumuleu Ciuc region which is located in Miercurea Ciuc. Cluj, however, is the largest city in Transylvania and no doubt that the whole region loved eating layered baked cabbage. Together with the cookbook which became a best seller and very likely primarily sold in larger cities, the rest of Romania associated this type of baked cabbage casserole with the largest Transylvanian city, therefore becoming known as Varza a la Cluj (cabbage from Cluj, Cluj type cabbage).
How to make Varza a la Cluj
Making Varza a la Cluj is incredibly easy. It's basically a delicious layered casserole with rice, fermented cabbage and buckwheat. Here's what you need to do.
Preheat the oven to 175C / 350F. Cook the buckwheat according to the pack instructions. Usually, you need to boil it for around 20 minutes and use a ratio of 2:1 water to buckwheat. If you want a deeper, herbier flavour profile, add a cube of vegetable stock to the water.
Cook the brown rice according to pack instructions. We created a handy skill on how to cook the brown rice to perfection, every single time. To give it extra flavour, you can add a cube of vegetable stock to the rice water. When the rice is ready, mix with a tbsp of flour, a tsp of cornstarch and 3 tbsp of ground flaxseed.
In the meantime, chop the fermented cabbage. Set aside. Please make sure to use fermented cabbage and not pickled cabbage. It's a difference between the two and Varza a la Cluj specifically asks for fermented cabbage.
In a casserole dish, add one layer of brown rice. Then add a layer of fermented cabbage. Then add a layer of buckwheat and another layer of rice. Top up with another layer of cabbage, then another layer of rice. Finally, add the last layer of cabbage.
Pour the tomato sauce over the last layer of cabbage and scatter the peppercorn and bay leaf. Bake in the centre of the oven for 35-45 minutes until the cabbage feels tender.
Allow the baked cabbage casserole to cool down slightly before serving. When serving it, there is a good chance the layers might collapse. That's because we are not using egg in the mixture so apart from the cornflour, flour and the flaxseed, there is nothing that binds the layers together. So be very very careful. However, after the baked cabbage casserole cools slightly or has been in the fridge overnight, the layers are better stuck together and easier to manoeuvre.
How to store Varza a la Cluj
It keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days. Just make sure to cover it as the cabbage can smell up your fridge. To heat it up you can microwave it for 30-60 seconds or reheat it on the hob with a little water at the bottom of the pan so the rice doesn't stick.
This recipe has been developed entirely by Yuzu Bakes. Any resemblance with other recipes is purely coincidental.