Romanian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarmale)

Romanian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarmale)

The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 3 hrs 20 mins
Total: 3 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 4 to 5 servings
Yield: 20 sarmale
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
556 Calories
28g Fat
43g Carbs
40g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 5
Amount per serving
Calories 556
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 28g 35%
Saturated Fat 6g 30%
Cholesterol 94mg 31%
Sodium 2885mg 125%
Total Carbohydrate 43g 16%
Dietary Fiber 10g 36%
Total Sugars 23g
Protein 40g
Vitamin C 128mg 642%
Calcium 229mg 18%
Iron 4mg 23%
Potassium 1617mg 34%
*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 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons raw rice

  • 6 tablespoons hot water, divided

  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork

  • 1 slice white bread, crusts removed

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional

For the Cooking Liquid:

  • 3 cups water

  • 1 cup sauerkraut juice (reserved from drained sauerkraut)

  • 1 tablespoon Vegeta

  • 10 black peppercorns

  • 4 medium 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 sprigs fresh dill

  • 2 pounds fresh or canned tomatoes, sliced

Steps to Make It

Prepare the Cabbage

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Romanian stuffed cabbage (sarmale) ingredients gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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

    Remove the core from the cabbage

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  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.​

    Use a paring knife to cut away the thick center stem from each cabbage leaf

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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

    Sauté the chopped onion, garlic, and rice

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  5. Add 4 tablespoons of the 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.

    Add hot water to the rice and onion mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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

    Place pork in a large bowl with bread

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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

    Add the cooled onion-garlic-rice mixture, the dill, thyme, salt, black pepper, optional red pepper and mix

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  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.

    Sauerkraut juice, Vegeta, peppercorns, and bay leaves

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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.

    Place about 1/2 cup of meat mixture on each cabbage leaf

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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

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

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  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.

    Mix the reserved chopped cabbage with sauerkraut and place some in the bottom of the prepared Dutch oven

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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

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

    The Spruce eats / Christine Ma

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

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

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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

    Spread dill sprigs on top of the cabbage

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  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 for about 20 minutes.

    Cook the stuffed cabbage in a Dutch oven

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

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

    Place tomatoes on top of the stuffed cabbage in the Dutch oven

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  9. Remove the lid and continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes. Remove the bay leaves and serve.

    Romanian stuffed cabbage (sarmale) in a Dutch oven

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

Tip

  • When combining the meat and rice mixture, it is easiest to use your hands to get the ingredients mixed evenly.

How to Store

  • Stuffed cabbage rolls can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days. Put any leftovers in an airtight container and drain any liquid before storing to avoid the rolls turning mushy.
  • To save a bit of time, uncooked cabbage rolls can be stored in the fridge for one day. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap when storing. Then, cook according to instructions.

How do you store cabbage?

A whole head of cabbage is best stored in a plastic bag or wrapped loosely in plastic wrap in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to two weeks. If any wilted or brown leaves are on the outside, simply peel them off and discard.