Serbian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarma)

Serbian stuffed cabbage recipe

​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 3 hrs 10 mins
Total: 3 hrs 40 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
536 Calories
19g Fat
50g Carbs
43g Protein
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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 Serbian stuffed cabbage, or sarma, is a hearty dish that many Serbs serve every day but especially for special occasions like slava and other holidays. Recipes vary from cook to cook, but they all consist of a meat filling wrapped in cabbage and cooked over sauerkraut. This recipe includes a tomato sauce for more flavor.

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.

Some people use imported or homemade whole heads of brined cabbage (sauerkraut) known as kiseli kupus when making their sarma. This recipe uses steamed cabbage leaves to wrap the filling and cooks atop a bed of shredded cabbage and sauerkraut.

Sarma, or Serbian stuffed cabbage, is a meal in and of itself and needs little accompaniment. A side of fresh bread or potato salad makes it a feast, or try starting with soup like pasulj.

Ingredients

  • 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 sarma stuffed cabbage
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  2. Steam the head of cabbage until the outer leaves are limp, then cool slightly and separate the leaves.

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

    Steamed cabbage leaves with tough ribs removed with a knife
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

Make the Filling

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

    Ingredients for filling in a bowl
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  2. Adding a small amount of water will make the mixture easier to handle.

    Water being added to meat mixture
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

Assemble the Rolls

  1. Heap 2 tablespoons of filling onto each steamed, prepared cabbage leaf.

    Filling added to a steamed cabbage leaf
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic 
  2. Fold the bottom of the cabbage leaf up over the meat.

    Cabbage leaf folded over the filling
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  3. Fold sides to the center and roll away from yourself to encase completely.

    Sides of cabbage leaves folded over the filling before rolling up
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  4. Repeat until the meat filling is gone.

    Rolled cabbage rolls on a cutting board
    ​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.

    Chopped remaining cabbage with tough core discarded
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  3. Spread the chopped cabbage on the bottom of a large casserole dish or Dutch oven. Add the drained sauerkraut.

    Chopped cabbage and sauerkraut in a pot
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  4. Layer on the cabbage rolls, seam side down.

    Cabbage rolls placed on top of the cabbage in a pot
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  5. Cut the smoked ribs into pieces. Space the ribs or other smoked meat of choice between the cabbage rolls.

    Smoked ribs positioned in between the cabbage rolls in a pot
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  6. Cover rolls with reserved tough outer leaves.

    Rolls topped with cabbage leaves in a pot
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  7. Mix tomato sauce and soup with enough water to make a liquidy consistency.

    Tomato sauce and soup mixed with a little water in a measuring cup
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  8. Pour over rolls until mixture is level with rolls, but not over the top.

    Tomato mixture pouring over the cabbage rolls
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  9. Cover casserole dish and bake 1 hour.

    Covering the cabbage rolls with a lid
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  10. Then reduce temperature to 325 F and bake for 2 more hours.

    Baked cabbage rolls in a pot
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  11. Let sit 20 to 30 minutes before serving. 

    Cabbage rolls and ribs in a pot with leaves removed
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic
  12. This dish freezes well.

    Serbian stuffed cabbage rolls (sarma) in a dish
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

How to Store and Freeze

  • Sarma can be prepared up to a day before baking. Assemble the rolls, top with sauce, and cover tightly. Store in the fridge until ready to bake; remove from the fridge 30 minutes before baking.
  • Unbaked stuffed cabbage rolls can be frozen. Assemble the rolls but stop before placing them atop the cabbage and sauerkraut and don't add the tomato sauce. Line a baking dish with aluminum foil followed by plastic wrap and top with the cabbage rolls. Wrap the top in the same way and freeze. Remove from the baking dish, wrap tightly, and store for up to three months. Defrost in the fridge overnight before proceeding with the recipe and baking.

Do You Eat Cabbage Rolls Hot or Cold?

Cabbage rolls are typically served hot or warm, often soon after being baked. They also make nice leftovers, and can be reheated in the oven or microwave.

How Do You Get Cabbage Leaves off Without Breaking Them?

Steaming a whole head of cabbage whole helps make the leaves pliable enough that they are less prone to breaking when peeled and separated. Alternatively, the head of cabbage can be frozen solid, which wilts the leaves enough for easier removal. Let thaw completely before separating the leaves.