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Sarma (Serbian Cabbage Rolls) + The Other Einstein #FoodieReads

Okay, so this isn't really a foodie book, however it does have a lot of delicious food inspiration. And it's a wonderful albeit slightly depressing book. The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict* weaves the story of Albert Einstein's first wife into a compelling historical fiction.

On the Page

I can honestly say that I knew nothing about Albert Einstein's private life. I doubt I even knew he was married. Once, much less twice.

The premise of this book is that Mileva Marić, Einstein's first wife, is actually responsible for discovering and articulating the Theory of Relativity among others of his theories. And though Marie Benedict bases her novel on extensive biographical research, she admits that her narrative is largely speculative.

Mileva's actual role is unknown and, certainly, undocumented. Certain scientists and scholars assert that she was, at minimum, a sounding board off of which Einstein tested his theories; some believe that it was, in fact, Mileva who performed the mathematical calculations for his theories; and even others still who purport that the theories for which he is credited are actually hers. Perhaps we'll never verify those claims, but one of my favorite literary styles is to take a lesser known character or event from history and develop an entire story around it. I relish a well-researched story, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. This definitely fits the bill.

Benedict poignantly recreates the atmosphere in Switzerland, Serbia, and Germany during the late 1800s and early 1900s. She elegantly depicts class-consciousness, sexism, anti-Semitism, strict decorum surrounding courtships, and more. The Other Einstein is a beautifully written book albeit one that is tough to read. So many times I wanted to scream at Mileva to stand up for herself, to grow a spine, and to live up to the brilliant mind that she least in the book.

The story is told from Mileva's perspective. And the reader immediately embraces her struggles - from been teased by classmates because of her hip "deformity" and the resulting limp to her desire to please her father in his push for her to earn an advanced degree in physics all the way to her ultimate sacrifice to put her husband's ambitions above her own.

One Serbian phrase embodies a large portion of this book: "Izgoobio sam sye. These were the only words I could think of to describe how I felt at that moment. Roughly translated from the Serbian, they meant lost. Lost as in directions, lost from myself, lost to him" (pg. 82). She lost herself. She relinquished her individuality and immense potential to become a wife and a mother. Mileva is likeable and that makes the story even more tragic.

On the Plate
There were many foods that jumped off the page in The Other Einstein. I will eventually have to make a lemon balm cake. It sounds delicious.

"The smell of lemon wafted toward me, and with a self-pleased grin, Milana slid over a plate of my favorite lemon-balm cake; the girls must have specially requested it for me from Mrs. Engelbrecht. A special gesture for a special day" (page 19).

There were meaty savories...
"'Miss Mileva, dinner is served.' The peppery, meaty scent of my favorite pljeskavica wafted through the air, but still, I was disappointed. I had to share Papa over dinner" (page 44). And "As we sat back to allow Ana to fill our plates with ćevapi, I expected a battery of questions and a good dose of jibes, just like every other time I’d received a letter from Albert. But strangely, no one said a word. Had they not noticed the letter’s arrival?" (page 131). Years ago I made Cevapcici and Pecenje Paprike; the cevapcici seem similar to ćevapi.

And lots of sweets at coffee houses...           
"'And I can still taste the marzipan and crème from the Sardegnatorte,' Ružica countered. 'I shouldn’t have had that second Milchkaffee,' I said, referring to the rich, milky coffee I adored. 'I’m so full that I might need to unlace my corset when we get back to the pension.' We giggled at the notion of appearing for one of Mrs. Engelbrecht’s dinner with undone corsets. 'You think you need to unlace your corset? What about me? I’m the one who ordered the second dessert. But I couldn’t resist the look of the Luxemburgerli,' Ružica said. The exquisite macaroon-style confections came in a variety of flavors, and Ružica claimed they were so airy and light they simply melted on her tongue. 'Maybe it’s a good thing that there’s nothing like Conditorei Schober at home in Šabac. I would have arrived here in Zürich for my studies quite the dumpling" (page 60).
Serbian Cabbage Rolls

But in the end, I just decided to make one of our favorite Serbian dinners, in honor of Mileva's heritage. In fact sarma is one of Serbia's most famous dishes. Besides, I can never resist using vegetables from D's garden and these cabbage leaves were ripe and ready!

Ingredients serves 6
  • 3/4 lb ground lamb (you can also make it with all ground beef).
  • 3/4 lb ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t freshly ground salt
  • 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T paprika (I used 1 t hot paprika and 2 t sweet paprika)
  • 2 C cooked rice (traditionally, you use raw rice, but I had cooked rice and it cut down on the final cooking time)
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 1 large head of cabbage, leaves separated and blanched for 1 to 2 minutes
  • 3 C sauerkraut, divided (my homemade version, just know you need at least 3 days' lead time)
  • 1 C tomato sauce
  • 1 C water or a mixture of water and red wine


Heat a glug of olive oil in a large, flat-bottom pan. Add the onions and cook until softened.

In a medium mixing bowl, place the ground meats, egg, salt, pepper, paprika, rice, and 1 C sauerkraut and mix until well-combined; I use my hands, but you can use a wooden spoon.

Stir together the tomato sauce and water or water and wine. Add a glug of olive oil and begin to warm the sauce.

After you blanch and drain your cabbage leaves, place a leaf flat on a cutting board or other clean workspace. Spoon 2 T of the filling onto the leaf, near the top. Fold the sides of the leaf in and roll as rightly as you can until you get to the stem. Place the rolls, stem side down, into the tomato sauce. Make as many as you can to fill the pot. After I ran out of cabbage leaves, I formed the rest of the meat into meatballs and added them to the pot.

Spoon the remaining sauerkraut over the rolls. Pour in enough water so that the rolls are about two-thirds of the way submerged. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.

Let the rolls braise for at least 90 minutes. Check on the liquid levels about half-way through cooking so that the rolls don't burn.

Serve hot.

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Click to see what everyone else read in May 2020: here.


  1. A new version of cabbage rolls, yum. I think I did hear something about this somewhere and also that on eof the great authors (I don't remember who) works were actually written by his wife but due to the times women weren't published so they used his name....Or maybe that was just the basis of a book I read....As I was typing this I kind of remember reading a book with a similar plot. LOL

    1. It is interesting, isn't it?! I remember that premise being the basis of a movie about Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel as well - that she actually carved several of the sculptures that bear his name.


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