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Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) Recipe

Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) are always part of our Christmas dinner! Sour cabbage (Sauerkraut) leaves stuffed with a mix of pork/beef/veal ground meat, slow cooked in tomato sauce with some smoked bacon and fresh thyme.

Romanian Cabbage Rolls ready for Christmas

Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) Recipe

How is everyone? I guess caught in the frenzy Christmas shopping.

I am an early shopper. I cannot deal with masses and masses around this time of the year. I usually finish all my Christmas shopping by December 1st.

This year I was late, just finished them 🙂 Yupi! Hopefully I did not forget anything. Since discovering Amazon Prime, I barely hit any shops. What about you, do you prefer online shopping or shops?

Now I can focus on planning all my Christmas dishes.

Christmas is always a feast!

Everyone gets to choose what they wanna have and we end up with so much food that will be more than enough for another 5 days. Kid you not!

Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls Christmas

Talking about Christmas dinner, there are always 2 special requests from my side: Romanian Cabbage Rolls stuffed with mince and Mini Panettone recipe.

There is no way we are celebrating Christmas without these staple dishes 🙂 As I have already shared my Panettone recipe, today we are talking about Romanian cabbage rolls (Sarmale).

Romanian cuisine is not very well known, although has some spectacular dishes (bean soup with hock, sweetbread, roasted eggplant and pepper spread, beans stew with smoked meat and the list can go on…) that I still crave for just writing this.

There is nothing light about Romanian cuisine 🙂

At least traditional cuisine that I was exposed to during my childhood. He, he… I was born in Dracula’s land 🙂 That’s what my daughter thinks of me 🙂

Romanian Cabbage Rolls Christmas

There are probably hundreds of various recipes for stuffed cabbage rolls. Each household changed bits and pieces to adjust it to their taste buds.

My favorite is my mum’s recipe, as you have guessed!

Delicious sour cabbage rolls stuffed with a mix of pork/beef/veal mince and some rice, slow cooked in tomato sauce with some smoked bacon and fresh thyme added for at least 3 hours.

Trust me, you won’t be able to stop!

I am pretty sure you’ll be able to find whole sour cabbage wherever you are in the world as long as there is a small Eastern European/ Polish shop around.

Let me know if you need any information where you can source it from, as I know places in Canada, US (Pennsylvania area) and even Australia.

Romanian Cabbage Rolls Christmas

Romanian cabbage rolls are really easy to make but time consuming, especially the rolling part. I am always making a big pot, reserving a whole afternoon for this job.

Best part about these cabbage rolls, apart from their addictive taste is that you can have them in the fridge for at least 10 days and they will get better and better.

I heard some people are freezing them but cannot say if it’s working or not because I haven’t tried.

I like to serve them really warm with a dollop of sour cream on the side, toasted bread and a jalapeño on side!

Hope you’ll enjoy it!

Romanian Cabbage Rolls Christmas

Yield: 25 -30 pieces

Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls Recipe

Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls Recipe
Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 3 hours 30 minutes


  • 2 lbs/ 1 kg combined ground pork/ beef
  • ½ cup arborio rice
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large sour cabbage
  • 700 ml tomato juice
  • 10 slices smoked bacon
  • some fresh thyme sprigs
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper


  1. Get ready the meat stuffing.
  2. Boil arborio rice till it's almost ready. Set aside to cool.
  3. Meanwhile chop the large onion. Sauté half of the quantity for a couple of minutes, saving the other half for later and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl mix all types of ground meat, add sauted onions and boiled rice, dried herbs, 1 teaspoon water, salt and pepper and mix well using your hands.
  5. Making the rolls.
  6. Remove gently not to break them, all cabbage leaves. You will only need the large leaves to make the rolls. The middle part will be chopped and added between cabbage rolls layers. Cut each large leaf in half, removing the tough core part too to make it easier to roll them.
  7. Add a tablespoon of ground meat mixture to each half leaf. Cover the filling with the edge from the base of the leaf. Bend edges on both sides and cover over the filling. Roll the stuffed cabbage leaf holding firm, so they won't break during cooking time. Repeat these steps until you finish all of your group meat mixture.
  8. Roughly chop smaller leaves or some that broke during the rolling process and set aside.
  9. Place big saucepan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the rest of chopped onions for 2-3 minutes. Add part of chopped sour cabbage leaves and sauté for another 2 minutes. Distribute the whole mixture on an even bottom layer and turn the heat to minimum. Start adding the rolls, creating a first level. Add some chopped smoked bacon, 2 bay leaves and 4 fresh thyme springs and some more chopped sour cabbage. Start creating the second level, putting rolls to the saucepan. When you finish the layer, add some more chopped sour cabbage on top, smoked bacon, another 2 bay leaves and some fresh thyme.
  10. Add half part sour cabbage juice and half part water to cover the rolls entirely. Place a lid on top of the saucepan and boil them on slow heat for at least 2 hours.
  11. After 2 hours, add tomato juice to the saucepan, place back the lid and boil for another 2 hours. The total cooking time should be at least 3 hours
  12. Serve them really warm with a dollop of sour cream onside and a jalapeño, if you like spicy

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

1 grams

Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g


Tuesday 25th of April 2023

Where in northern California can you get sour cabbage? My grandmother and grandfather came over from Romania when they were very young she always served Sarmale with whatever else she was having usually boiled chicken. She used to sour her cabbage under the sink. I’ve been trying to learn how to do that since I was old enough to cook. I make a pretty good part of cabbage rolls. But not even close to hers. She never learned English and I never learned Romania but I have 12 heads of cabbage that I’ve been curing and hopefully they’re ready now. Would appreciate it if I could get it here in California already made sour cabbage, but it’s not. I’ll keep trying. Thank you very much.

Peter Mandic

Sunday 11th of April 2021

I just finished an afternoon of making my version of sour cabbage rolls. Not my first time with this recipe. We are lucky to have sour cabbage available in our area but a bit of a drive. I freeze them. Growing up I don’t recall having cabbage rolls even though my parents were from Slovenia and Serbia, now Montenegro. I fell in love with them when I bought a frozen tray from a Serbian butcher. The reason they were delicious was because of the sour cabbage. That was 17 years ago. What goes with cabbage? Corned beef. My meat mixture was 2 parts ground beef, 2 parts ground pork, and 1 1/2 parts ground corned beef. Yum.

Tracie Babich

Sunday 8th of March 2020

My in laws were from Croatia. My mother in law made Sarma my whole family love it, especially with mashed potato. Instead of bacon she used smoked bacon bones. Also she used paprika instead of tomato juice. She did not use bay leaves or thyme. Your recipe does sound good and would like to attempt it to see the difference

Traditional Christmas Food in Romania | Looknwalk

Friday 30th of November 2018

[…] alternative to the fried meat is the famous “sarmale” (meat stuffed cabbage rolls), which can be made with various fillings and rolled in various “coatings” (cabbage […]


Tuesday 23rd of October 2018

Where in PA can you find sour cabbage. I am 2 hours west of Philadelphia. I have been so hungry for sarmale!! I lived in Suceava for a few years and I'm missing the food. I have heard of using boiled cabbage leaves and adding sauerkraut to the pot to cook but if I could find sour cabbage leaves that would be awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Adore Foods

Wednesday 24th of October 2018

Hi Kimberly, the shop where I used to get my whole sour cabbage to make "sarmale" is called Euro Market. Address is 30 S Sprout Rd, Broomall, PA 19008, USA. Not sure how far is from your place. You could give them a call (+1 610-359-9021) before heading there to see if they have it available. The shop has a lot of European'll love it!

I don't think adding sauerkraut to the pot will do the job. The meat will not be cooked in sour cabbage leaves and the whole taste won't be the same. Hope this helps!

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