Serbian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarma)

Serbian stuffed cabbage recipe

​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

  • Total: 3 hrs 20 mins
  • Prep: 20 mins
  • Cook: 3 hrs
  • Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
536 Calories
19g Fat
50g Carbs
43g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 536
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 19g 24%
Saturated Fat 7g 34%
Cholesterol 116mg 39%
Sodium 1443mg 63%
Total Carbohydrate 50g 18%
Dietary Fiber 12g 44%
Protein 43g
Calcium 173mg 13%
*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 sarma is the Serbian version of stuffed cabbage that many Serbs serve every day but especially for special occasions like their slava and other holidays.

Some people use imported or homemade whole heads of brined cabbage (sauerkraut) known as kiseli kupus when making their sarma.

Check this quick tip for an easy way to remove leaves from a cabbage head.


  • 1 (3 to 4-pound) large head cabbage
  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup raw rice, rinsed
  • 1 (1.4-ounce) package dehydrated onion soup mix
  • 1 32-ounce jar sauerkraut (rinsed and drained)
  • 6 smoked ribs (or ham hock or other smoked meat)
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can tomato soup

Steps to Make It

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

Prepare the Cabbage

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for cabbage
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  2. Steam cabbage until outer leaves are limp, then remove leaves.

    Steam cabbage
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  3. With a paring knife, remove tough ribs from leaves without damaging them. Reserve tougher outer leaves, but don't use for rolling.

    Remove ribs from cabbage
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

Make the Filling

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together ground chuck, ground pork, rice, and onion soup mix.

    Ingredients for filling
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  2. Adding a little water will make the mixture easier to handle.

    Add water
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

Assemble the Rolls

  1. Heap 2 tablespoons of filling on each cabbage leaf.

    Add filling
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic 
  2. Fold the bottom of the cabbage leaf up over meat.

    Roll leaf
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  3. Then fold sides to the center, and roll away from yourself to encase completely.

    Fold sides up
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  4. Repeat until meat filling is gone.

    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

Bake the Sarma

  1. Heat oven to 350 F.

  2. Discard the cabbage core and coarsely chop any remaining cabbage except the tough outer leaves you have reserved.

    Discard leaves
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  3. Spread chopped cabbage on the bottom of a large casserole dish or Dutch oven. Add the sauerkraut.

    Cabbage bits at bottom of pot
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  4. Layer on the cabbage rolls, seam side down.

    Layer on cabbage rolls
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  5. Cut the smoked ribs into pieces if using, otherwise, space the smoked meat of choice between the cabbage rolls.

    Cut smoked ribs
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  6. Cover rolls with reserved tough outer leaves.

    Cover with leaves
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  7. Mix tomato sauce and soup with enough water to make a liquidy consistency.

    Mix tomato sauce
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  8. Pour over rolls until mixture is level with rolls, but not over the top.

    Pour over rolls
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  9. Cover casserole dish and bake 1 hour.

    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  10. Then reduce temperature to 325 F and bake for 2 more hours.

    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  11. Let sit 20 to 30 minutes before serving. 

    Baked cabbage
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  12. This dish freezes well.

    Serbian stuffed cabbage rolls
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

Stuffed Cabbage in Other Cultures

Stuffed cabbage in one form or another is present in most world cuisines but especially among Eastern Europeans. Czechs and Slovaks call them ​holubky and Poles refer to them as ​gołąbki. They all boil down to the same thing—meat and a filler like rice or barley rolled up in a cabbage leaf and cooked on the stove or in the oven.