Serbian Stuffed Cabbage (Sarma)

Serbian stuffed cabbage in white bowls

​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 3 hrs 20 mins
Rest: 20 mins
Total: 4 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
Yield: 16 to 18 rolls
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
555 Calories
26g Fat
47g Carbs
36g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 555
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 26g 33%
Saturated Fat 9g 44%
Cholesterol 109mg 36%
Sodium 1627mg 71%
Total Carbohydrate 47g 17%
Dietary Fiber 9g 32%
Total Sugars 12g
Protein 36g
Vitamin C 107mg 537%
Calcium 190mg 15%
Iron 5mg 30%
Potassium 1386mg 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 Serbian stuffed cabbage, or sarma, is a hearty dish that many Serbs serve every day but especially for special occasions like slavas 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.

"The Serbian stuffed cabbage was a nice change of pace with the tomato sauce mixture and the sour flavor from the sauerkraut. The onion soup-seasoned filling was delicious, too. If your brand of dry onion soup envelope weighs only 1 ounce, add 1 1/2 envelopes." —Diana Rattray

Serbian Stuffed Cabbage/Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 (3-to 4-pound) 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 medium smoked ribs, ham hocks, or other smoked meat

  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

  • 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can tomato soup

Steps to Make It

Prepare the Cabbage

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Serbian stuffed cabbage (sarma) ingredients gathered

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  2. Cut the core out of the cabbage and discard. In a large pot partially filled with boiling water, steam the cabbage, cut-side down. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and steam until the outer leaves are limp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove the larger softened leaves. Continue to steam and remove larger leaves as they become done until you have about 22 to 23 whole large cabbage leaves. Reserve any remaining steamed cabbage.

    Cabbage steaming in a pot

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  3. With a paring knife, remove the tough ribs without damaging the leaves. Discard the cabbage ribs or reserve for another use.

    Steamed cabbage leaves with tough ribs removed with a knife

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

Make the Filling

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

    Stuffed cabbage filling ingredients gathered

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  2. Add a small amount of water to make the mixture easier to handle.

    Water added to meat mixture

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

Assemble the Rolls

  1. Set 3 or 4 of the leaves aside. Heap about 1/4 cup of filling onto each of the remaining cabbage leaves.

    Filling added to a steamed cabbage leaf

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic 

  2. Fold the bottom of the cabbage leaf up over the meat.

    Cabbage leaf folded over the filling

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  3. Fold sides to the center and roll away from yourself to completely encase the meat.

    Sides of cabbage leaves folded over the filling before rolling up

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  4. Repeat until all the meat filling is used.

    Rolled cabbage rolls on a cutting board
    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

Bake the Sarma

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 F.

  2. Coarsely chop the remaining steamed cabbage, not including the reserved leaves.

    Chopped cabbage on a cutting board with tough core discarded

    ​The Spruce Eats / 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 Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  4. Layer on the cabbage rolls, seam-side down.

    Cabbage rolls placed on top of the cabbage in a pot

    ​The Spruce Eats / 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 Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  6. Cover rolls with reserved whole cabbage leaves.

    Rolls topped with cabbage leaves in a pot

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  7. Whisk the tomato sauce and soup with enough water to give it a pourable consistency.

    Tomato sauce and soup mixed with a little water in a measuring cup

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  8. Pour the tomato sauce over rolls until the mixture is level with rolls, but not over the top.

    Tomato mixture pouring over the cabbage rolls

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  9. Cover the casserole dish and bake 1 hour.

    Cabbage rolls in a large pot covered with a lid

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  10. Reduce temperature to 325 F and bake for 2 more hours.

    Baked cabbage rolls in a pot with the lid off

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  11. Let sit 20 to 30 minutes before serving. 

    Cabbage rolls and ribs cooked in a pot with leaves removed

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic

  12. Serve with the ribs.

    Serbian stuffed cabbage rolls (sarma) in a white bowl and serving dish

    ​The Spruce Eats / Zorica Lakonic


  • 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.

How to Store and Reheat Leftover Stuffed Cabbage

  • Refrigerate leftover Serbian stuffed cabbage (sarma) in an airtight container and eat within 3 to 4 days.
  • To freeze cooked cabbage rolls, place them in freezer bags or airtight containers. Label with the name and date and freeze for 3 to 4 months. Defrost the stuffed cabbage in the refrigerator overnight.
  • To reheat leftovers, place the stuffed cabbage in a baking dish with a few tablespoons of broth, water, or tomato juice. Cover the baking dish with foil and heat in a preheated 350 F oven until the internal temperature of the filling reaches 165 F, about 20 minutes,

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 or boiling a whole head of cored cabbage 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.