Romanian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarmale)

Stuffed cabbage on a plate

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  • Total: 3 hrs 50 mins
  • Prep: 30 mins
  • Cook: 3 hrs 20 mins
  • Servings: 4 to 5 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
750 Calories
37g Fat
60g Carbs
50g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 5
Amount per serving
Calories 750
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 37g 48%
Saturated Fat 9g 47%
Cholesterol 121mg 40%
Sodium 2439mg 106%
Total Carbohydrate 60g 22%
Dietary Fiber 19g 67%
Protein 50g
Calcium 380mg 29%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This recipe for Romanian stuffed cabbage, or sarmale, features ground pork, sauerkraut, tomatoes, and dill. Sarmale is enjoyed year-round in Romania, but especially for holidays like Christmas and Easter. Stuffed cabbage is a traditional dish not only in Romania but across all of Eastern Europe.


  • For the Cabbage:
  • 1 whole head cabbage (about 4 pounds)
  • For the Filling:
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons raw rice
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
  • 1 slice crustless white bread
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill (chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • For the Cooking Liquid:
  • 1 cup sauerkraut juice (reserved from drained sauerkraut)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Vegeta
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • For the Dutch Oven:
  • 3 cups sauerkraut (drained, rinsed, and squeezed dry; reserve 1 cup juice for cooking liquid)
  • 6 strips bacon
  • 6 fresh dill sprigs
  • 2 pounds tomatoes (fresh or canned, sliced)

Steps to Make It

Prepare the Cabbage

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Remove core from cabbage. Place whole head in a large pot filled with boiling, salted water. Cover and cook 3 minutes, or until softened enough to pull off individual leaves. You will need about 20 leaves.

  3. When leaves are cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to cut away the thick center stem from each leaf, without cutting all the way through. Chop any remaining cabbage and set aside to be used in the Dutch oven.​

Make the Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a large skillet, sauté chopped onion, garlic, and rice in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent. Add 1/4 cup hot water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the water. Let cool.

  3. Place pork in a large bowl. Quickly dip bread in water, squeeze to remove excess water, and add to the meat along with cooled onion-garlic-rice mixture, combining thoroughly. Add dill, thyme, salt, black pepper, optional red pepper, and 2 tablespoons water. Mix completely but lightly so as not to toughen the meat.

  4. Prepare the cooking liquid in a medium bowl by mixing sauerkraut juice with 3 cups water, Vegeta, peppercorns, and bay leaves, and set aside.

Assemble the Rolls

  1. Place about 1/2 cup of meat mixture on each cabbage leaf. Flip the right side of the leaf to the middle, then flip the left side to the middle. You will have something that looks like an envelope.

  2. Roll away from you to encase the meat and create a neat little roll.

Prepare the Dutch Oven

  1. Using 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil, coat a large, lidded Dutch oven or casserole dish. Mix reserved chopped cabbage with sauerkraut and place some in the bottom of the prepared Dutch oven.

  2. Place 3 strips bacon across sauerkraut and cover with a layer of stuffed cabbages. Add another layer of sauerkraut, bacon strips, and stuffed cabbage. Then top with remaining sauerkraut. Spread dill sprigs on top and sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Pour sauerkraut juice-water mixture over all.

Cook and Serve the Cabbage Rolls

  1. Heat oven to 375 F. Place Dutch oven over high heat on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, cover and simmer about 20 minutes.

  2. Transfer to oven and cook 1 1/2 hours. Then add sliced tomatoes, cover and cook another 45 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking another 15 minutes.

  3. When ready to serve, remove bay leaves, and accompany sarmale with boiled potatoes, pasta or mamaliga (polenta).