Romanian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarmale) Recipe

stuffed cabbage on a plate
Silvia Jansen / Getty Images
  • 2 hrs 30 mins
  • Prep: 30 mins,
  • Cook: 2 hrs
  • Yield: 20 sarmale (4-5 servings)
Ratings (18)

This recipe for Romanian stuffed cabbage, or sarmale, features ground pork, sauerkraut, tomatoes, and dill. It's adapted from Nicolae Klepper's "Taste of Romania" (Hippocrene Books, 2005).

Sarmale is enjoyed year-round in Romania, but especially for holidays like Christmas and Easter.

If this doesn't float your boat, here are 22 more Eastern European stuffed cabbage recipes.

What You'll Need

  • 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 (see below)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Vegeta
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • For the Dutch Oven:
  • 3 cups sauerkraut, (drained, reserve 1 cup juice as above, rinsed, and squeezed dry)
  • 6 strips bacon
  • 6 fresh dill sprigs
  • 2 pounds sliced tomatoes (fresh or canned)

How to Make It

Prepare the Cabbage:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.​

    Make the Filling:

    1. 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 rice has absorbed all the water. Let cool.
    2. Place pork in a large bowl. Quickly dip bread in water, squeeze to remove excess water and add to meat along with cooled onion-garlic-rice mixture, combining thoroughly. Add dill, thyme, salt, pepper, hot pepper, if using, and 2 tablespoons water. Mix completely but lightly so as not to toughen the meat.
    3. In a medium bowl, mix 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. Roll away from you to encase the meat. Flip the right side of the leaf to the middle, then flip the left side.
    2. You will have something that looks like an envelope. Once again, roll away from you to 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 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).
      Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
      Calories 750
      Total Fat 37 g
      Saturated Fat 9 g
      Unsaturated Fat 21 g
      Cholesterol 121 mg
      Sodium 2,439 mg
      Carbohydrates 60 g
      Dietary Fiber 19 g
      Protein 50 g
      (The nutrition information on our recipes is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. Individual results may vary.)