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+ servings

Sarmale (Romanian Cabbage Rolls)

Chef's Pencil Staff
4.92 from 47 votes
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Course Christmas dish, Main Course
Cuisine Romanian
Servings 25 Romanian sarmale



  • 500 g combined ground pork/ beef or just minced pork (fattier)
  • 50 g rice
  • 1 medium onion  chopped
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large sour cabbage or 2 medium cabagges


  • 500 ml tomato juice passata or thick broth
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 10 slices smoked bacon
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay Leaves
  • salt and pepper

To serve


How to Make Sarmale:

  • Prepare the cabbage leaves from a night before. Cut the main rib and then put them in a sieve to drain. If they are too sour , put them in bowl with water for couple hours to make them less salty or less sour. 

Prepare the meat stuffing:

  • Finely chop the two onions and sauté gently in a large pan with a splash of oil until softened. Don’t fry them or they’ll turn bitter.
  • Add some finely chopped smoked meat to the onions at this stage too and continue cooking for a couple of minutes.
  • Turn the heat off, allow to cool a bit, and add the minced meat, rice and some of the spices (thyme and paprika) and mix it all together well using your hands.

How to Make the Rolls:

  • You will only need the large leaves to make the rolls. Once you’ve sorted out the leaves which are good for rolling, finely chop the discarded parts and put a layer of these chopped pieces into the cooking vessel to form a barrier between the bottom of the pot and the first row of sarmale – this’ll help prevent burning.
    Cabbage rolls
  • Cut each large leaf in half, removing the tough core part too to make it easier to roll them.
  • 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.
  • Start adding the rolls, creating a first level.
  • Continue the rolling process until you have a complete layer, onto which you can place some more of the smoked meat, some sprigs of thyme, other spices (like the bay or paprika, if you so wish), and maybe more of the chopped cabbage to fill any large gaps.
  • Start creating the second level, putting rolls to the saucepan. Allow a little space at the top for expansion.
  • When you finish the layer, add some more chopped sour cabbage on top, smoked bacon, another 2 bay leaves and some fresh thyme.
  • Pour on the seasons tomato bullion so it soaks in between the tightly-packed sarmale and reaches the level of the top layer. Finish it all off with a layer of whole cabbage leaves on top, just two of three to cap it off.
  • Place a lid on top of the saucepan and braise them on low heat for at least 2.5 hours, or bake in a 300 degree Fahrenheit (150 ℃) oven for 3 hours. Top up the sauce with a cup of hot water every hour (as needed). At the end there should be sauce halfway up the pot.
  • Serve hot immediately with sour cream on top, polenta and hot peppers.


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