These Easy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, or the Romanian Sarmale, are 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. Quick and easy to make, these cabbage rolls are best seved with polenta and sour cream.
As a nation, we are so proud of our Romanian sarmale, always welcoming foreign guests 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 equaly delicious, and I have the right recipe for you: Vegetarian 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. The Middle-Eastern dolma is also similar to these rolls.
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.
How to make stuffed cabbage leaves
Rolling can look complicated if no previous experience, but it is such a fun. I remember as l child when l was helping mum, my rolls always looked so bad compared to mum’s perfect and same-sized rolls. I still cannot call myself an expert, but l have definitely improved my skills. Hooray!
The ground meat does not need to be cooked beforehand, just mix it with rice, finely chopped onions if you used, seasoning and herbs, and mix well to combine.
Place a cabbage leave 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 tighlty next to each other, to avoid the filling coming out during cooking. Add tomato paste, bay leaves, and water, and cook on alow to medium heat until ready. You might need to add a plate over the rolls while cooking to ensure they stay in place.
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 Braised cabbage with ham and sausages 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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These Easy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, or the Romanian Sarmale, are a healthy dinner dish made with ground meat and rice, 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. Quick and easy to make, these cabbage rolls are best seved with polenta and sour cream. The best homemade dinner recipe!
- 250 g ground chicken
- 1 cup rice
- 1/2 tbsp vegetarian oil
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 small onion
- pickled cabbage leaves sauerkraut
- 1/2 red pepper
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 2 cups water
Cut the onion really finely and mix it with the minced chicken.
Rinse the rice under running cold water, then mix it with the chicken and onion.
Add the vegetable oil and season with salt and sweet paprika. If you cook with pork or beef that have a bit of fat in it, oil can be ommited, otherwise it must be added so that the rolls can be nice and tender.
This mixture was enough for 15 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 chopped red pepper and 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.
Remove from the heat and transfer to a serving plate.
To reheat, simply pop the rolls in the oven until hot.
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- The servings can be adjusted by clicking the number next to Servings.