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 fresh cabbage white or green cabbage
- ½ cup white wine vinegar if you use fresh cabbage
- ½ cup white wine Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
- 1 pound ground fatty pork
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 medium yellow onions
- ½ cup white rice
- 1 fresh egg
- ½ cup cold water
- 14 ounces smoked spare ribs
- 7 ounces smoked bacon
- 2 tablespoons dried ground thyme
- ½ tablespoon ground coriander
- ½ tablespoon ground allspice
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons dried dill
- Salt to taste
- 14 ounces one can pureed tomatoes or tomato sauce
Preparing the leaves
- Bring 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 entire cabbage in the water and cook it for about 10-15 minutes. Let it cool, then start to remove the leaves one at a time (they should come off easily. If not, continue to cook until they do). The leaves need to be whole because you will use them to fold up the meat filling.
Preparing the filling
- Wash and drain the rice. Chop the onions finely.
- In a large bowl mix together the ground meat, the rice, and the onions. Add salt (less if you use sauerkraut), fresh ground black pepper, dried ground thyme, ground coriander, ground allspice, and the egg. Mix everything together with your hands adding the cold water little by little.
Preparing the cabbage rolls
- Use the medium and smaller size leaves as a whole but halve the large leaves, dividing them at the stem. Reserve some leaves. If there are some broken leaves left, reserve them, too.
- Place some filling at the base of each cabbage leaf. Fold the lower side of the leaf over the filling, then fold the right side of the leaf over and roll it up (like you’re wrapping a burrito!). Push the open side of the leaf in to close it.
Preparing the pot
- Preheat the oven to 380°F.
- The best pot for sarmale is an enameled Dutch oven.
- Chop all the leftover cabbage and the broken leaves finely, julienne style, and place them in the bottom of the pot. Reserve some for topping the pot.
- Line the bottom of the pot with the cabbage rolls. Place the bay leaves, smoked ribs, and bacon on top of the layer of cabbage rolls. Sprinkle dill on top. Then place another layer of cabbage rolls on top and sprinkle on some more dill and 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 the minimum setting. Leave the pot on the stove for about 2 hours. Check it periodically, and if necessary, add hot water.
- Uncover the pot, put it inside the preheated oven and continue cooking for one more hour. Check it periodically and if necessary, add hot water.