Sarmale or Cabbage Rolls – Romanian Traditional Recipe

Many think about Dracula, Transylvania and Nadia Comaneci when they think about Romania, but the Romanian cuisine is also worth exploring. The traditional Romanian cuisine was influenced by Balkan, Turkish, Serbian, German and Hungarian recipes. Therefore, the food is varied and very tasty.

Sarmale, or Cabbage rolls is the food that best defines Romanian Traditional cuisine. They can be found at every traditional Romanian wedding, all the grandmothers in Romania know how to cook them and their smell always reminds us of Christmas and New Year holidays.

It is made of minced meat ( pork and poultry or beef), combined with rice, spices, onions, then rolled in sour cabbage leaves. It is left to boil for several hours in a special sauce, usually a tomato sauce and every housekeeper puts its special ingredients.

In some Romanian regions, in Moldavia for example, the cabbage leaves are replaced by vine leaves. There is also a vegan option for those who love sarmale. The meat can be replaced by ground nuts, grated carrots and choped mushrooms. Sarmale can be found in traditional Romanian restaurants and it is usually served with sour cream and mămăliga.

If you love pork meat, you will surely love sarmale. Get your inspiration from the recipe above.

Sarmale – Cabbage Rolls


  • For the Cabbage:
  • whole head cabbage (about 4 pounds)
  • For the Filling:
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons raw rice
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
  • 1 slice crustless white bread
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill (chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • For the Cooking Liquid:
  • 1 cup sauerkraut juice (reserved from drained sauerkraut)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Vegeta
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • For the Dutch Oven:
  • 3 cups sauerkraut (drained, rinsed, and squeezed dry; reserve 1 cup juice for cooking liquid)
  • 6 strips bacon
  • 6 fresh dill sprigs
  • 2 pounds tomatoes (fresh or canned, sliced)


Prepare the Cabbage

  1. Find the right sour cabbage. You can make it by yourself or buy it from the store. Remove core from cabbage. Choose around 20 medium sized leaves.
  2. Chop any remaining cabbage and set aside to be used in the Dutch oven.​

Make the Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.
  2. In a large skillet, sauté chopped onion, garlic, and rice in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent. Add 1/4 cup hot water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the water. Let cool.
  3. Place pork in a large bowl. Quickly dip bread in water, squeeze to remove excess water, and add to the meat along with cooled onion-garlic-rice mixture, combining thoroughly. Add dill, thyme, salt, black pepper, optional red pepper, and 2 tablespoons water. Mix completely but lightly so as not to toughen the meat.
  4. Prepare the cooking liquid in a medium bowl by mixing sauerkraut juice with 3 cups water, Vegeta, peppercorns, and bay leaves, and set aside.

Assemble the Rolls

  1. Place about 1/2 cup of meat mixture on each cabbage leaf. Flip the right side of the leaf to the middle, then flip the left side to the middle. You will have something that looks like an envelope.
  2. Roll away from you to encase the meat and create a neat little roll.

Prepare the Dutch Oven

  1. Using 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil, coat a large, lidded Dutch oven or casserole dish. Mix reserved chopped cabbage with sauerkraut and place some in the bottom of the prepared Dutch oven.
  2. Place 3 strips bacon across sauerkraut and cover with a layer of stuffed cabbages (This is optional, the traditional Romanian recipe does not include bacon). Add another layer of sauerkraut, bacon strips, and stuffed cabbage. Then top with remaining sauerkraut. Spread dill sprigs on top and sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Pour sauerkraut juice-water mixture over all.

Cook and Serve the Cabbage Rolls

  1. Heat oven to 375 F. Place Dutch oven over high heat on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, cover and simmer about 20 minutes.
  2. Transfer to oven and cook 1 1/2 hours. Then add sliced tomatoes, cover and cook another 45 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking another 15 minutes.
  3. When ready to serve, remove the leaves, and accompany sarmale with mamaliga (polenta). Some also like the leaves and eat them too.



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