Sarmale – stuffed cabbage rolls


This recipe for Romanian stuffed cabbage or sarmale is a traditional recipe. You can use any type of minced meat or just add grinded nuts or chopped mushrooms for a vegetarian dish. Sarmale are enjoyed year-round in Romania, but especially for holidays like Christmas and Easter.


  • 1 whole head cabbage (the best is pickled cabbage)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 finely chopped medium onion
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 250 g rice
  • 700 g minced meat
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon Vegeta (or use two cubes of biff stock)
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 tablespoons of tomato paste


Remove core from cabbage. Place whole head in a large pot filled with boiling, salted water. Cover and cook 10 minutes, or until softened enough to pull off individual leaves. You will need about 20 leaves.

When leaves are cool enough to handle, use a knife to cut away the thick center stem from each leaf, without cutting all the way through. Chop any remaining cabbage and set aside.

In a large skillet, sauté chopped onion, garlic and rice in 1 tablespoon olive oil, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent. Add hot water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 5 minutes or until rice has absorbed all the water. Let cool.

Place the minced meat in a large bowl and add the with onion-garlic-rice mixture, combining thoroughly. Add dill, thyme, salt, pepper, hot pepper, if using, and 2 tablespoons water. Mix completely but lightly.

Place about 50 g of meat mixture on each cabbage leaf. Roll away from you to encase the meat. Flip the right side of the leaf to the middle, and then flip the left side. You will have something that looks like an envelope. Once again, roll away from you to create a neat little roll.


Using the remaining olive oil, coat a large, casserole.  Cover with a layers of stuffed cabbage rolls. Add water mixed with the stock,  just enough to cover. If you have any leftovers from the cabbage, chop it and add as a layer on the top to keep the moisture in.

Place casserole over high heat and bring to a boil, lower heat to medium-low, cover and simmer about 20 minutes. Here you can either transfer to oven (heat oven to 180 degrees C.) and cook 2 hours or let it simmer for 1 1/2 hour. Then add the tomato paste dissolved in a little bit of water, cover and cook another 30 minutes.

When ready to serve accompany sarmale with sour cream and  mamaliga (polenta).


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