Sarmale (Romanian Cabbage Rolls)

Sarmale, or Romania’s version of cabbage rolls, have origins that date back over 2, 000 years. The direct heritage of cabbage rolls is uncertain, however, its lineage can be traced back to Jewish cooking from over 2000 years ago. Many countries and cultures have variations of cabbage rolls. What makes Romania’s version (sarmale) unique is the standard use of grape leaves or sour cabbage rather than regular cabbage. Additionally, Romanian sarmale are typically topped with a savory tomato-based sauce rather than a sweet and sour sauce common in other cultures.

Romanians traditionally serve sarmale for holidays like Christmas and Easter; however, sarmale are also commonly served at special events like weddings or baptism parties. They can be found at many traditional Romanian restaurants as well, but they are best homemade. Try this AMAZING recipe out for yourself 🙂

Servings: Approximately 35-40 rolls


3 heads of cabbage

2 tablespoons salt

1/4 cup vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

4 onions, finely chopped

1.5 cups celery, finely chopped

1/2 pound bacon, diced

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 tablespoon black pepper

1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 cup rice, washed and drained

2 pounds ground pork, beef, or combination of both

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

2 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

1 quart sauerkraut

1 cup tomato sauce

1 cup tomato juice

1 bay leaf

Sour cream for serving (optional)


Remove the core from the cabbage heads. In a large, deep pot, boil enough water to cover the cabbage. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and 1/4 cup white vinegar to the boiling water. Immerse the cabbage in the water and allow to cook, covered, over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes. Remove leaves with tongs as they become tender. Pat the leaves dry and allow to cool. Trim the main vein in each leaf so it lies flat like the rest of the cabbage leaf.

While the cabbage leaves are cooling, begin working on the rice mixture. To a large pan, add olive oil, chopped onions, celery, bacon, salt, pepper, and paprika and sauté over medium heat until light golden brown. Add the rice and cook for another minute.

Add the onion and rice mixture to the ground meat and add salt and pepper, parsley, and dill Mix well with your hands. This will be the meat filling.

Now it is time to assemble the cabbage rolls. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the meat filling in the center of each cabbage leaf. Roll up each sarmale into a neat roll until all ingredients have been used up.

Squeeze juice out of the sauerkraut and place half of the jar on the bottom of a large, deep, pot. Chop any leftover cabbage and place on top of the sauerkraut. Arrange the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in the pot in neat layers. They should be loosely touching each other. Sprinkle salt between each later. Once all cabbage rolls are in the pot, place the second half of the sauerkraut on top.

Pour the tomato sauce and tomato juice over the sauerkraut and put bay leaf on top. Cover the cabbage rolls with just enough water to cover the rolls.

Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer on low heat for approximately 2 hours. Alternatively, the rolls can be baked in the oven at 375 Fahrenheit for approximately 4 hours. If you cook them this way, cover the rolls with aluminum foil for the first 2 hours and allow the rolls to cook, uncovered, for the last 2 hours.

Serve with sour cream if desired.

*Sarmale are typically cooked in large batches as they are quite time consuming to make. Luckily, they are easy to freeze. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to three months.


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