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.