Tasty Cabbage Rolls On a White Plate.

Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale)

Video Recipe


Sarmale: The Essence of Romanian Cuisine

Stuffed cabbage rolls, originally known as sarmale, are an emblem in traditional Romanian cuisine. This delicious dish contains cooked cabbage leaves stuffed with a flavorful mixture of ground pork, onions, and rice all simmered and then roasted in a tasty tomato-based sauce.

The traditional recipe calls for pickled cabbage and not fresh, however, you can customize the recipe for your own taste and preferences. But, if you follow my exact instructions I am 100% convinced you will discover a new favorite dish. Stuffed cabbage rolls are a masterpiece of meals as long as they are prepared properly.


To achieve the absolute taste of the sarmale you must use pork meat that is rich in fat. The belly region should be perfect, or the chest area, otherwise the cabbage rolls will be very dense and not juicy at all. Avoid meat that is already ground. The fatness alongside pickled cabbage plays a huge role in how tasty the sarmale will be.

Romanian Cabbage Rolls Neatly Arranged on a Pristine White Plate, Paired With a Glass of Rich Wine.


The wrapping process is not a difficult process at all, only time-consuming, but once you will taste how delicious cabbage rolls are, you will agree with me.
Boil the stuffed cabbage rolls for 4 hours, checking every hour the water level, and add more water to compensate for what evaporated.
After 4 hours, switch to roasting for 1 hour with the lid on and 40 minutes without a lid.

The Condiment Mix

Condiments on a White Plate for Romanian Sarmale Recipe

The ultimate secret weapon for delicious sarmale is a potent condiment mix of aromatic herbs and spices.

Combined, thyme, dill, paprika, salt, and pepper create a formidable flavor force that permeates the cabbage rolls with an explosion of taste.

The mix of two teaspoons of fresh, earthy thyme and one teaspoon each of savory dill, sweet smoked paprika, salt, and coarsely ground black pepper forms an unstoppable umami-packed flavor assault on the rice and meat filling.

For extra measure, half a teaspoon of garlic powder can be added to the spice mix, delivering a final kick of sharp fragrance.

This specially crafted condiment blend transforms simple ingredients into a dish of complex flavors and scent.

Armed with this secret spice mix, home cooks can produce sarmale that rival those of an expert Romanian grandmother.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Ingredients Needed to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls
  • Fat Minced Pork Meat – 1.5 kilograms or 3.3 pounds (65% meat and 35% fat)
  • Pickled Cabbage – 2 pieces (might be 3 if they are small, or just 1 if it’s a huge one)
  • Onions – 3 pieces
  • Tomato Paste – 2 tablespoons
  • Canned Tomatoes – 200 milliliters or 6.7 fluid ounces
  • Bay Leaves – As needed
  • Peppercorns – As needed
  • Rice (presoaked 1h before cooking) – 150 grams or 5.3 ounces
  • Bacon – 100 grams or 3.5 ounces
  • Sunflower Oil – 50 milliliters or 1.7 fluid ounces
  • Water – 1 liter or 34 fluid ounces
  • Condiment Mix: Thyme – 2 teaspoons, Salt – 1 teaspoon, Dried Dill – 1 teaspoon, Sweet Smoked Paprika – 1 teaspoon, Pepper – 1 teaspoon, Garlic Powder (optional) – 1/2 teaspoon
Ingredients Needed to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

1. Grinding the Meat

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

 Start by grinding the meat if your butcher doesn’t provide that service.

2. Preparing the Cabbage Leaves

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

 Unwrap and portion the cabbage leaves by removing the middle vein of the cabbage leaf.

3. Making the Sauce

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Lightly fry the bacon in 50 ml of sunflower oil for a few minutes.

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Remove the bacon and sauté the onions in the same oil.

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Add pre-soaked rice, let it cook for a few minutes on low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and canned tomatoes. Let the sauce cook all together for 10 minutes on low heat.

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Let the sauce cool off before mixing it with the meat.

4. Mixing the Meat and Sauce

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

In a big bowl, add minced meat, the freshly made sauce, and the condiment mixture.

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Blend everything well into a paste.

5. Preparing the Pot and Adding Ingredients

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Add finely chopped pickled cabbage, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a pot good for both stove and oven usage. Place the bacon from earlier in the pot if there is any left.

6. Shaping and Placing the Sarma

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Place a cabbage leaf in your hand, take the meat with the other hand, and place it on top of the leaf. Roll it then shove the corners of the leaf inside the roll.

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Place each sarma in the tray as you shape them.

7. Boiling the Cabbage Rolls

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste in 1 liter of water, mix it, and pour the mixture over the cabbage rolls.

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Put them to boil for 4 hours on the lowest setting of your stove. Every hour, add 1 cup of water to compensate for the water that evaporates during boiling.

8. Roasting the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

After 4 hours of boiling switch to roasting. Add a lid over the tray/pot or aluminum foil and put the stuffed cabbage rolls in the oven at 170 degrees Celsius or 338 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour and a half with the lid on the entire time.

9. Final Roasting

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

After 1 hour and a half, remove the lid and let them roast for another 40 minutes.

Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

The Origin of Sarmale

The origin of Sarmale is shrouded in mystery. Every culture from Eastern Europe to the Middle East seems to have their own version of stuffed cabbage leaves. Did they arise independently across regions or were they spread through cultural diffusion over the centuries? We may never know for sure. What we do know is that they are delicious and a comforting staple in many households, including my own family. Wherever they came from, I’m glad Sarmale found their way into our cultural cuisine and hearts.

Now, some food historians will confidently proclaim that Sarmale originated in Turkey, others will swear they started in Armenia. Ask a Romanian or Bulgarian, and they will tell you Sarmale are a national dish that goes back generations. The exact origins remain perplexing, to say the least. What matters most though is not where Sarmale came from but that they are here now, wrapped in their cabbage leaf blankets, ready to be enjoyed among friends and family. So grab some sour cream, bread, and a glass of wine and dig in. Sarmale are meant to be shared, their mysterious origins aside, they have been adopted and adapted in kitchens across Eastern Europe, brought people together, and created lasting memories and traditions.

Tasty Cabbage Rolls On a White Plate.

Romanian Cabbage Rolls ( Sarmale )

Yield: 30
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 6 hours 10 minutes
Additional Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 7 hours 30 minutes

Succulent minced pork meat, combined with aromatic onions and savory bacon, creates a tantalizing filling that is carefully enveloped in pickled cabbage leaves. Simmered to perfection in a rich tomato-based sauce infused with the warmth of bay leaves and peppercorns, these cabbage rolls are a true culinary masterpiece. The addition of fragrant rice and a blend of delightful spices enhances the taste, while the slow cooking process ensures each bite is packed with juicy tenderness. Delight your taste buds with this time-honored dish that will transport you to the heart of Romanian culinary heritage.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg and half or 3,3 pounds of fat minced pork meat; 65 % meat and 35 % fat, pure fat
  • 2 pieces of pickled cabbage; depending on the size of your cabbage might be 3 if they are small, or just 1 if it’s a huge one
  • 3 onions
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 200 ml or 6,7 fluid ounces of canned tomatoes
  • bay leaves
  • peppercorns
  • 150 grams or 5,3 ounces of rice; presoak the rice 1h before cooking
  • 100 grams or 3,5 ounces of bacon
  • 50 ml or 1,7 fluid ounces of sunflower oil
  • 1 liter or 34 fluid ounces of water
  • condiment mix: 2 tsp thyme, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp dried dill, 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika, 1 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic powder (optional)

Instructions

  1. Start by grinding the meat if your butcher doesn’t provide that service.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.
  2. Unwrap and portion the cabbage leaves by removing the middle vein of the cabbage leaf.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.
  3. Lightly fry the bacon in 50 ml of sunflower oil for a few minutes.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls. Remove the bacon and sauté the onions in the same oil.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls. Add pre-soaked rice, let it cook for a few minutes on low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and canned tomatoes. Let the sauce cook all together for 10 minutes on low heat.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls. Let the sauce cool off before mixing it with the meat.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.
  4. In a big bowl, add minced meat, the freshly made sauce, and the condiment mixture.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls. Blend everything well into a paste.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.
  5. Add finely chopped pickled cabbage, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a pot good for both stove and oven usage. Place the bacon from earlier in the pot if there is any left.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.
  6. Place a cabbage leaf in your hand, take the meat with the other hand, and place it on top of the leaf. Roll it then shove the corners of the leaf inside the roll.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls. Place each sarma in the tray as you shape them.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste in 1 liter of water, mix it, and pour the mixture over the cabbage rolls.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls. Put them to boil for 4 hours on the lowest setting of your stove. Every hour, add 1 cup of water to compensate for the water that evaporates during boiling.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.
  8. After 4 hours of boiling switch to roasting. Add a lid over the tray/pot or aluminum foil and put the stuffed cabbage rolls in the oven at 170 degrees Celsius or 338 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour and a half with the lid on the entire time.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.
  9. After 1 hour and a half, remove the lid and let them roast for another 40 minutes.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.Process Shots Showing How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls.

Notes

The Pickled Cabbage

For best results, use homemade pickled cabbage. If it's too sour or salty, rinse it quickly with cold water. Keep 2-3 pickled cabbages handy to select the best-looking leaves. Chop the small leaves and layer them at the bottom and surface of the pot. Here you have the recipe for homemade pickled cabbage.

The Tastiest Sarmale

To achieve the best taste for sarmale respecting instructions 8 and 9 is crucial.

How to Serve Them

  • bread or polenta
  • hot peppers
  • sour cream

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 30 Serving Size: 120g
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 564Total Fat: 38gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 27gCholesterol: 103mgSodium: 794mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 35g

The nutritional information provided is approximate and for reference purposes only. Actual values may vary due to factors such as product brands, preparation methods, and ingredient substitutions. The provided values may not include all nutrients and should not be relied upon as the sole source of nutritional information. Always read product labels and consider individual factors when making dietary choices. We are not responsible for any inaccuracies or adverse effects resulting from the use of this information.

Did you make this recipe?

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More Sarmale Recipes

If you liked my recipe and you want to expand your adventure and try more sarmale recipes made in Romanian style I’ve made a list for you.

Make sure to use a browser or a feature that can translate the pages into your desired language because they are in Romanian:

Author

  • Diana

    Hey! I’m Diana. a 30-year-old culinary enthusiast with a passion for creating mouthwatering dishes that tantalize your taste buds. With over 15 years of cooking experience under my apron, I’ve spent countless hours in the kitchen honing my skills, experimenting with flavors, and discovering the most delectable recipes.

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