Romanian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarmale)

Stuffed cabbage on a plate

Silvia Jansen / Getty Images

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 3 hrs 20 mins
Total: 3 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 4 to 5 servings
Yields: 20 sarmale
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
750 Calories
37g Fat
60g Carbs
50g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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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.

Serve sarmale with boiled potatoes, cooked pasta, or mamaliga to soak up the sauce.

Ingredients

  • For the Cabbage and Filling:
  • 1 whole head cabbage (about 4 pounds)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons rice (uncooked)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
  • 1 slice white bread (crustless)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill (chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • For the Cooking Liquid:
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup sauerkraut juice (reserved from drained sauerkraut)
  • 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

Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this dish is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Prepare the Cabbage

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Remove the core from the cabbage. Place the 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. Drain. You will need about 20 leaves.

  3. When the 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.​

  4. In a large skillet, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Sauté the chopped onion, garlic, and rice, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent.

  5. Add 1/4 cup hot water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the water. Let cool.

  6. Place the pork in a large bowl. Quickly dip the bread in water, squeeze to remove excess water, and add to the meat.

  7. Add the cooled onion-garlic-rice mixture and mix. Add the dill, thyme, salt, black pepper, optional red pepper, and remaining 2 tablespoons water. Mix completely but lightly so as not to toughen the meat.

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

Assemble the Rolls and Bake

  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. Repeat with the remaining mixture.

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

  4. Place 3 strips of bacon across the sauerkraut and cover with a layer of stuffed cabbages.

  5. Add another layer of sauerkraut, bacon strips, and stuffed cabbage. Then top with remaining sauerkraut.

  6. Spread dill sprigs on top and sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Pour sauerkraut juice-water mixture overall.

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

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

  9. Let cool for a few minutes. Remove the bay leaves and serve.