The Food Issue

Joe Krizman III shares the secret of his Croatian cabbage rolls

Joe Krizman III’s recipe for Croatian cabbage rolls, called sarma, uses fermented, not fresh, cabbage leaves.
Joe Krizman III’s recipe for Croatian cabbage rolls, called sarma, uses fermented, not fresh, cabbage leaves. The Kansas City Star

Stuffed cabbage rolls are a Slavic standard, but the Croatian version of “sarma” is different, using cabbage leaves from “sauerheads,” in which the cabbages are fermented, not fresh.

“We are just staying true to our food roots, making sausage and sauerkraut the way my grandfather did,” Joe Krizman III says. “It’s interesting that fermenting has become a trend, because these are the foods I grew up eating.”

Sausage links generations of the Krizman family, owners of Krizman’s Sausage. For 76 years, the family has handcrafted Eastern European sausages such as bratwurst, knackwurst and Croatian kobasa from a shop at Sixth Street and Elizabeth Avenue in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan.

Joe Krizman Sr. immigrated to America in 1914 and began working in Kansas City’s West Bottoms meatpacking plants. In 1939, he opened a grocery store and made sausages for the meat case. Joe Krizman Jr. took over the business in 1972, and his son, Joe Krizman III, bought the business five years ago.

Today, Krizman’s can produce up to 8,000 pounds of sausage a week selling wholesale to area restaurants. To go with the sausage, it also prepares cultured cabbage, fermented and alive with good bacteria that many think aid in digestion and overall health.

The uncut cabbages, or “sauerheads,” are $1.09 a pound, with each averaging about 4 pounds. Sauerkraut sells for $2.09 a pound.

With six children of his own, Krizman III looks to the future for continued solvency in the sausage business. “It’s great when people with Croatian, Polish, Serbian and Slovenian heritage come to the counter and buy their sausage and sauerkraut from us, but we can’t survive on that foot traffic,” he says.

In addition to selling wholesale to restaurants, he is talking to area grocery stores about carrying Krizman sausages.

Krizman’s Sausage: 424 N. Sixth St., Kansas City, Kan.; 913-371-3185;; Facebook;

Krizman’s Croatian Sarma

Makes 18 servings

1 1/2 pounds ground chuck

1/2 pound ground pork

3/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 large head fermented cabbage or “sauerhead”

2 (2-pound) smoked sausage rings, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

4 cups unsalted beef stock

Rye bread and boiled or mashed potatoes, to serve (optional)

In a mixing bowl, stir ground chuck and pork, rice, egg and pepper together. Set aside.

Prepare cabbage leaves by removing stem and core from cabbage. Remove leaves and rinse with cold water to remove excess brine. Shake dry and set aside.

Roughly chop cabbage core and place in the bottom of at least a 12-quart Dutch oven or large stovetop-safe roasting pan with lid. Set aside.

Using a 1 1/2 tablespoon scoop, place filling 1-inch from the edge of the bottom of a single cabbage leaf. Carefully fold sides of the leaf over the filling. Starting at the bottom of the leaf, roll it into a cylinder and place in the Dutch oven or roasting pan.

Repeat the process with remaining leaves and filling, arranging uncooked cabbage rolls side-by-side until the bottom of the pan is completely covered, then layering the remainder. Roughly chop any unused cabbage leaves and sprinkle over the top. Spread sausage pieces evenly over all. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk tomato sauce and beef stock together. Pour over uncooked cabbage rolls; fill pan with water 1-inch above sausage pieces. Cover tightly with lid and bring liquid to a boil on stovetop over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for at least 2 hours, or until cabbage leaves are soft and filling is completely cooked through, with meat that is no longer pink and rice that is soft.

Place cabbage roll and sausage pieces on plate with pan juices ladled over all. Serve with rye bread and boiled or mashed potatoes, if desired.

Per serving: 527 calories (63 percent from fat), 42 grams total fat (15 grams saturated), 121 milligrams cholesterol, 10 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams protein, 1,147 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.