Romanian Cabbage Rolls (sarmale)

My recipe for traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) are made with sour cabbage stuffed with pork, beef, and little bit of bacon. They’re the best cabbage rolls you will ever have!

This recipe for Romanian cabbage rolls is tried and true. I’ve made it probably a hundred times, and have rolled thousands of them! The big difference between Romanian cabbage rolls and others are that we make them with sour cabbage. You can find sour cabbage at pretty much all grocery stores sold in jars. You can also find sour cabbage at your local Polish or Ukrainian stores!

This is my mom’s recipe and it’s my favorite. I won’t eat cabbage rolls made any other way. The other piece that separates Romanian cabbage rolls from the rest is that we add some kind of smoked meat. This time I used smoked bacon. Now I’ve got your attention, hey?

Ingredients In Cabbage Rolls

I know some people avoid making their own cabbage rolls because they assume this type of recipe is complicated. Just look at these ingredients! They’re really simple.

For this recipe you’ll need:

  • Vegetable oil – We’ll be using this to saute the onion and rice. You can use any type of oil that you have handy.
  • Onion – I used a large onion because this recipe makes a lot of cabbage rolls. Every bite should have onion in it!
  • Long grain rice – Basmati rice is best. I wouldn’t use brown rice- it takes a lot longer to cook than white rice and you may end up with crunchy bits in your rolls.
  • Ground pork – I love to use pork because it has a higher fat content and makes for some nice juicy rolls. You can use any type of ground meat you like, but keep in mind that leaner meats like chicken or turkey will come out drier.
  • Fresh parsley & dill – Using fresh herbs makes such a big difference in how the flavor develops in your rolls!
  • Salt & pepper – Season the mixture to your own discretion.
  • Sour cabbage leaves – This is what really sets the Romanian version apart from the rest. The little hit of vinegar is to die for!
  • Bacon – Find yourself a nice thick-cut smoky style of bacon.
  • Tomato juice – This is what our rolls are going to sit and cook in.

How To Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

This recipe is super easy to prepare. The hardest part is getting through rolling all of that filling, but I promise it’s worth it. Make a day of it and invite some friends and family to help!

  1. Prepare the filling: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high. Saute the onions until translucent, then add the rice and toast for 1 minute. Add the pork, salt, pepper, parsley, dill, and the onion mixture to a large bowl and mix well. Use salt sparingly – the cabbage leaves are brined.
  2. Roll the filling: Remove the cabbage leaves from the brine. You can soak them in water beforehand to draw out some of the salt. Cut each leaf in half and fill the piece with a few tbsp of the meat mixture and roll. Refer to the video in the recipe card to see how I roll these nice and tight. Repeat until all the filling has been used.
  3. Assemble the rolls: Chop up the remaining cabbage leaves and add them to a large pot or deep roasting dish with a lid. Arrange all the rolls over the chopped cabbage and disperse the bacon evenly among the rolls. Pour the tomato juice over the rolls and top up with some water, if needed, to ensure the rolls are covered with liquid.
  4. Bake the rolls: Cover the pot with a lid or foil. Bake at 375F for 3 hours, then remove the cover and cook for another 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Serve hot with a side of sour cream.

Can I Make This Recipe With Fresh Cabbage?

Using sour cabbage is what sets Romanian cabbage rolls apart from the rest. If you can’t find any, then you can use fresh cabbage instead.

Follow these steps:

  1. Carefully separate the leaves from your head of cabbage. Bring a large and generously salted pot of water to a boil, and cook the leaves for about 3 minutes.
  2. Remove the leaves and let them cool. Cut out the thickest part of each leaf at the bottom by slicing on each side of the rib to form a triangle.

That’s it! You can follow my method for rolling the perfect cabbage rolls by checking out the video in the recipe card.

Can I Make Cabbage Rolls Ahead Of Time?

This recipe is perfect for making the night before. You can assemble all the rolls, chopped cabbage, and bacon in your baking dish, cover well with plastic wrap or foil, then pour the tomato juice in when you’re ready to cook the rolls.

Pro Tips For Making The Best Cabbage Rolls

  • Sour cabbage can be pretty salty, so let it soak in a big pot of water for an hour or two before you assemble your rolls.
  • You can use a mixture of ground meats. Pork+beef, beef+chicken, turkey+pork, or beef+lamb are all great combinations.
  • Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together. This is the best way to make sure all the ingredients are mixed evenly.
  • Try out riced cauliflower (uncooked) instead of regular rice for a low-carb option.

How To Store Leftover Cabbage Rolls

These will last in your fridge for 3-4 days. Cover the baking dish well with plastic wrap or foil, or you can transfer the leftovers to an airtight container. They will also last 3-4 months in your freezer. Make sure to save all that juice as well! You’ll need it to reheat the rolls.

How To Reheat Cabbage Rolls

If they’re frozen, transfer them to the fridge a day before you want to eat them so they can thaw. Place the rolls to a baking dish, with the juice, and bake at 350F for about 1 hour.


source:, photo:

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