Romanian Sarmale Recipe or stuffed cabbage rolls, a healthy dinner dish made with ground meat and rice, herbs, paprika and seasoning, rolled in cabbage leaves or sauerkraut, and cooked in a light tomato sauce until tender. It's a traditional dish in Romania, which is a classic recipe at Christmas, but also all year round.
As a nation, we are so proud of our Romanian sarmale, always welcoming foreign visitors with some finger-licking sarmale (and a glass of plum brandy). Usually served with mamaliga (polenta), sour cream and green chilli peppers on the side, or even pickled vegetables like gherkins, or peppers.
While many countries have the tradition of roast turkey when it comes about important holidays, we indulge ourselves in these divine stuffed cabbage rolls. They can a bit heavy, depending on the meat used, so some moderation is the key if you want a happy tummy after a rich meal.
Pickled cabbage or sauerkraut may be replaced with grape leaves, they are equally delicious, and I have the right recipe for you: Stuffed Grape Leaves. Of course, meat can be added too.
The stuffed cabbage rolls are popular not only in Romania, but also across Europe, so you will find different variations of them, although the recipe is pretty much the same: Polish, Russian, German, Italian, and many more.
What are Romanian Sarmale
Sarmale are stuffed pickled cabbage leaves with rice, ground meat (pork, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, or a combination of any of these), seasoning and herbs, cooked until the filling is cooked and the cabbage leaves are tender.
If you don't have sauerkraut, you can use raw cabbage leaves, and boil them until tender, so they can be easy to roll. The sauerkraut is pickled, so if you use simple cabbage rolls, you can add some lemon juice to the filling or tomato sauce for extra taste.
- ground pork
- ground chicken
- rice - I used both basmati and long grain rice and they both work as well
- sweet paprika
- salt & ground black pepper
- dried mixed herbs
- pickled cabbage leaves - sauerkraut
- tomato purée
Step-by-step photos and instructions
Rolling can look complicated if no previous experience, but it is such a fun.
- in a bowl, combine the ground pork with ground chicken, add the rice, seasoning and finely chopped onion
The ground meat does not need to be cooked beforehand, just mix it with rice, finely chopped onions if you use, seasoning and herbs, and mix well to combine.
- place a cabbage leaf on a chopping board, place about half a tablespoon of filling in the middle, and fold it like an envelope, then roll. Repeat until the filling is used up.
- arrange the rolls tightly next to each other, to avoid the filling coming out during cooking. Add tomato paste, bay leaves, and water, and cook on slow to medium heat until ready. You might need to add a plate over the rolls while cooking to ensure they stay in place.
Once they are cooked, you can also transfer them to the oven for 10-15 minutes so the rolls can be extra amazing, but that's completely optional.
Make sure you cook the rolls over a low to medium heat, otherwise a high heat might make the rolls come unwrapped.
To reheat the rolls, you can transfer them to an ovenproof container to go in the oven for 15-20 minutes until heated through.
Romanian food - the very best you can get
I absolutely love our traditional food, there are so many fantastic dishes, but to name a few, Pilaf and Stewed Cabbage are my favourite. We don't really use so many strong spices, but rather let the ingredients bring up their very flavour.
Meat is certainly a favourite, you won't find many people to say they don't like meat over there. Let's have some heavenly Romanian Sarmale, I promise you this dish is delicious!
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- 500 g ground pork
- 250 g ground chicken
- ½ cup rice
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
- 1 small onion
- 30 pickled cabbage leaves sauerkraut
- 2 tablespoon tomato purée
- 3 cups water
- Cut the onion really finely and mix it with the minced chicken and pork.
- Rinse the rice under running cold water, then mix it with the chicken and onion.
- Season with salt, ground black pepper, herbs and sweet paprika.
- This mixture was enough for 30 rolls, but depending on how big your rolls are, you may need more or less pickled cabbage leaves.
- Take a tablespoon of the mixture and place it on the pickled cabbage leaf. Fold it tightly into a roll. Repeat with the remaining mince.
- Shred a few pickled cabbage leaves and place them on the bottom of a large pan.
- Place the rolls around the pan leaving a well in the middle. Do make sure they are no gaps between the rolls, otherwise they might unfold during cooking.
- Add the tomato purée and pour in the water, making sure all the rolls are completely covered. Add more water if necessarily.
- Cover with a lid and cook on a small to medium heat until the rolls are cooked through.
- You can also add them to the oven once the are cooked, for 10-15 minutes, so the cabbage leaves can be extra tender.
- To reheat, simply pop the rolls in the oven until hot.
- Click on the US Customary link to see the measurements displayed in cups and ounces.
- The servings can be adjusted by clicking the number next to Servings.
- Make sure you cook the rolls over a low to medium heat, otherwise a high heat might make the rolls come unwrapped.
- To reheat the rolls, you can transfer them to an ovenproof container to go in the oven for 15-20 minutes until heated through.
Love cabbage rolls! Gorgeous.
Thank you, Chris!
Such a popular dish across central and eastern Europe, we live in Eastern Hungary about and hours drive away from the Romanian Border and this is one of my favourite local dishes, called Töltött káposzta here and always delightful 😀
I am glad you also like this dish 🙂
I love stuffed cabbage rolls!!! And these are definitely not too heavy for me. Send them my way and I'll gladly devour them with gusto.
Thank you ?
Holly @ 3 Yummy Tummies
Yum...I love stuffed cabbage rolls and the flavors sound amazing!
I grew up with my families recipe of these and unfortunately didn't get the recipe from my mother before she passed away. I'm going to tweak this recipe with what I do remember. I miss all of the delicious romanian food my mothers side made. 😋
It's a delicious dish, we have it often. I hope you enjoy it!
Emma @ Supper in the Suburbs
I love learning about food from different cultures and I'm not familiar with Romanian food at all! Great post!
Thank you, Emma!
kereta sewa subang
Its look sooo delicious. Perfect dish!
thanks for sharing recipes with us here. Looking more from you dear
Thank you for your kind comment, I am very happy that you like it 🙂
What a classic Romanian dish! And you're recipe sticks very close to the version I ate back home.
Thank you very nice, so nice of you! I am glad you like my recipe, it's a family favourite over here.
I've never tasted these, but they do look delicious. I like the idea of them stuffed with chicken as they sound as though they'd be lighter than ones stuffed with beef or pork. But I could be wrong, and would be happy to try any.
Thank you! Indeed, the chicken stuffed ones are a lot lighter, and more suitable for our boiling hot summers when teperatures reach 40 degrees easily. Pork is the favourite filling in winter, especially for our Christmas rolls.
Igor @ Cooking The Globe
Daniela, these cabbage rolls look fantastic! I grew up with a Russian version, now I will try yours too!
Thank you, Igor! It's amazing how popular the rolls are in so many countries. I love them, they are so tasty!
Who doesn't love sarmale? We also make a lighter version of these, I know a lot of people who only use pork and beef, but we usually make a combination of turkey or chicken and beef. My mother-in-law adds just a bit of pork (at least some pork fat between the layers of cabbage), and she always tries to make my husband believe that she didn't add any pork meat, because he hates it :)) This year is going to be the first one when I make sarmale by myself, with no help from my mom or mother-in-law, so wish me luck 🙂
Good luck! 🙂 I am sure they will taste great.My husband doesn't like pork either, and fusses about meat in general, but he does like our rolls. I haven't made any for a while, l need to make some soon.
Hi, Do you cook the Rice first, and is it possible to cook them completely in the oven Please? Looking forward to trying these for Supper. Merlyn.
Hi! Thank you for your comment! The rice does not need to be cooked, it will cook at the same time with the ground meat.
You can cook them in the oven too, once they are rolled, arrange them in an oven-proof dish, cover with water or broth, add the tomato puree and bay leaves, and cover with a lid.
Bake at 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) until the meat and rice are cooked through. I hope it helps!