Sarmale (Romanian Cabbage Rolls)

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Sarmale (Romanian Cabbage Rolls)

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2 lbs/ 1 kg combined ground pork/ beef
½ cup 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
3-4 Bay Leaves
Salt and pepper
  • Medium




The Romanian word “sarma” is borrowed from the Turkish language – sarmak, where it means “to wrap, to wrap.” Sarmale is just that – cabbage (in this case, sour cabbage) wrapped around minced pork, rice and sometimes vegetables. Sarmale is  a favourite in many eastern European households, with recipes passed down from generation to generation. It is safe to to say Sarmale always includes some kind of ground meat (typically a combination of pork and beef) and also rice, as well as traditional sour cabbage leaves. As it is a heavy food, it is most commonly preapared in winter, and served on polenta, sometimes with potatoes or bread, “cooled” with yogurt, cream, dill and horseradish. 

How to Make Sarmale:

  1. Prepare the meat stuffing.
  2. Boil the 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.

How to Make the Rolls:

  1. Remove gently not to break the cabbage leaves.
  2. You will only need the large leaves to make the rolls.
  3. The middle part will be chopped and added between cabbage rolls layers.
  4. Cut each large leaf in half, removing the tough core part too to make it easier to roll them.
  5. Add a tablespoon of ground meat mixture to each half leaf.
  6. Cover the filling with the edge from the base of the leaf. Bend edges on both sides and cover over the filling.
  7. 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.
  10. Add part of chopped sour cabbage leaves and sauté for another 2 minutes.
  11. Distribute the whole mixture on an even bottom layer and turn the heat to minimum.
  12. Start adding the rolls, creating a first level.
  13. Add some chopped smoked bacon, 2 bay leaves and some more chopped sour cabbage.
  14. Start creating the second level, putting rolls to the saucepan.
  15. When you finish the layer, add some more chopped sour cabbage on top, smoked bacon, another 2 bay leaves and some fresh thyme.
  16. Add half part sour cabbage juice and half part water to cover the rolls entirely.
  17. Place a lid on top of the saucepan and braise them on low heat for at least 2 hours, or bake in a 300 degree oven for 2 hours.
  18. Serve hot immediately with sour cream on top.

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