Cabbage rolls, sometimes named “stuffed cabbage,” is one of the most loved Romanian national dishes. Usually, it’s prepared with pickled cabbage in brine (sauerkraut), but you can use fresh cabbage as well.
“This is a great recipe for family reunions and holidays in Romania. I remember how my grandmother and my mother slowly cooked for hours the cabbage rolls, waiting for the whole family to come home for Christmas and gather around the table. For me, sarmale is my comfort food.
This recipe is an authentic traditional Romanian, a recipe inherited from my grandmother. Anyway, every family in Romania has its own recipe. There are different versions around my country, but every recipe has cabbage, ground meat and rice. Also, many countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans eat stuffed cabbage rolls because the original recipe was a Turkish one. Even the name, sarmale, is a Turkish word meaning “wrapped”. The legend says that the cabbage rolls become tastier after a few days, but no one can wait a few days with this dish in the fridge.”
– LUCIAN PURCAREANU, PRESS & CULTURAL AFFAIRS OFFICER OF THE EMBASSY OF ROMANIA
🇷🇴 Romania: Sarmale
- The best pot for sarmale is an enameled Cast Dutch Oven
- 1 Large cabbage (Sauerkraut or fresh white cabbage)
- 0.5 Cups White wine vinegar (If you use fresh cabbage)
- 0.5 Cups White wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc)
- 1 lb Ground fatty pork
- 1 lb Ground beef
- 2 Medium Onions
- 0.5 Cups White rice
- 1 Egg
- 0.5 Cups Cold water
- 14 oz Smoked spare ribs
- 7 oz Smoked bacon
- 2 Tbsp Dried ground thyme
- 0.5 Tbsp Ground coriander
- 0.5 Cups Ground allspice
- Fresh ground black peppercorns
- 3 oz Dried dill
- 1 can Pureed tomatoes or tomato sauce (14 oz)
Preparing the Leaves
- Remove the hard core of your cabbage.
- If you use sauerkraut, separate the leaves and soak them in cold water for 1 hour. If you use fresh cabbage, start by bringing a very large pot of water to a boil
- When the water boils add about 1 tablespoon of salt and the white wine vinegar. Place the cabbage in the water and cook it for about 10-15 minutes, then start removing the leaves. If it comes off easily it mean that the cabbage is cooked. You must remove only 1-2 leaves at a time. You will need the leaves to be whole because you will need them to be foldable. You must wait for the cabbage to be cool.
Preparing the Filling
- Wash and drain the rice. Chop the onions finely.
- In a large bowl mix together the ground meat, rice and onions. Add salt (carefully if you will use sauerkraut), fresh ground black peppercorns, dried ground thyme, ground coriander, ground allspice and the egg. Mix all together with your hands adding the cold water little by little.
Preparing the Cabbage Rolls
- Use medium and smaller size leaves as a whole but halve the large leaves, dividing them at the stem. Keep some leaves apart. If there are some broken leaves left, keep them, too.
- Place some filling at the base of the cabbage leaf and fold the lower side over the filling. Then fold the right side of the leaf over the meat and roll. Stuff the side of the leaf with your finger inside the roll.
Preparing the Pot
- Preheat the oven at 3800 Fahrenheit.
- Chop all the leftover cabbage and the broken leaves finely, julienne style, and put them in the pot, at the base. Keep some, if you have, for topping the pot.
- Place the cabbage rolls from the bottom to the top of the pot. The pot should be large enough to hold two layers of cabbage rolls with enough space left at the top.
- Put between the layers: the bay leaves, smoked ribs and bacon. Sprinkle the dill over each layer of cabbage rolls.
- On the top of the layers, put the remaining chopped cabbage.
- Mix the pureed tomatoes with the half cup of white wine and pour the mixture on top of the cabbage rolls. They should not be covered completely by the mixture, as they need space to boil.
- Cover the pot and bring it to a boil on the stove. Then lower the heat to minimum. Leave the pot on the stove about 2 hours. Check it periodically and if it is necessary, add hot water.
- Uncover the pot, put it inside the preheated oven and continue cooking for 1 more hour. Check it periodically, and if necessary, add hot water.
- When it is ready, bring it out and serve after 10 or 20 minutes with sour cream on top, hot peppers and polenta or white bread. You can enjoy sarmale with a glass of dry red wine.
- Poftă bună! (Bon appetite!)