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Sarmale served over a bed of mashed potatoes and topped with sour cream.

How to Make Sarmale: Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Sarmale is Romanian comfort food that’s a favorite in my household. These Cabbage Rolls are so warm and comforting, and something about them tastes like home. I spent about ten years living in the DFW Metroplex, and part of that was with a Romanian roommate. His family was generous enough to let me tag along for their annual Christmas dinner. This is where they introduced me to Sarmales. His Mom even made extras, and he and I smashed those over about two days.

The History of Sarmale

The Turkish claim to have been the creator of cabbage rolls. However, as they took over many other countries, the cabbage roll adapted to the local flavors. That said, Sarmale derives from the Turkish word, Sarma, meaning package or roll.

Over twelve other countries have their version of cabbage rolls, but Romania has made them a deeply rooted part of their culture. For over a hundred years, these little bundles of comfort have been made in Romania, and once you taste one, you’ll understand why!

They’re typically reserved for holidays and events such as Christmas, Easter, weddings, and new year’s.

But I say they’re perfect because it’s Wednesday…Thursday, Friday, Saturday…well, you get the point!

Hell, Have ’em on Monday; that’ll be a perfect way to finish up that day!

Anyway, let’s keep it moving, shall we?

What are Sarmales?

Sarmale is the Romanian word for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. So, this might not exactly answer your questions as I’m sure you’d like to know what’s in them and how to prepare them.

Let’s dig right in!

How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Sarmale Ingredients

Meats

You can use any ground meat for your Sarmale recipe; however, I opt for ground pork. I think the high-fat content and overall flavor are a better option. You could also create a beef pork mixture if you’d like. In this case, I would say 75% pork to 25% lean ground beef.

The other commonly used meat is smoked meat. I like to use thick-cut bacon. However, the bacon doesn’t go inside the cabbage rolls here. You’ll spread the bacon on top during the cooking process.

Vegetables

The most critical vegetable in any sarmale recipe is the cabbage. Of course, you can use raw cabbage, which you’ll then core and boil until the leaves become soft. The other option is to go the traditional route and use sour cabbage leaves, which is the route I took for this recipe. You can purchase jarred sour cabbage leaves that are ready to go, online. Drain the jar and place the cabbage leaves in a bowl of cold water to soak. The leaves tend to be slightly salty, so soaking them reduces sodium while keeping a somewhat pickled flavor.

Now, you’ll also want some onion in there. A yellow or white onion will work perfectly. Just be sure it’s finely diced. I like using a hand food processor to mince the onions perfectly.

Herbs and Spices

The herbs and spices are essential as they will add a ton of flavor. Grab some minced garlic, fresh parsley, fresh dill, dried thyme, kosher salt, and black pepper. You’ll be good to go with these simple ingredients.

Grains

When creating the meat mixture, adding some rice is essential and traditional. I love Jasmine and Basmati rice for just about everything, and either will work for this recipe. The rice plays a big part as a filler and lends a nice texture to the cabbage rolls.

Extras

The only extra ingredient you’ll need is some tomato juice. Again, this doesn’t go into the rolls but over them during the slow cooking process.

Equipment

Slow Cooker

Of course, you’ll need more than just the slow cooker to prepare the Sarmale. Not much more, though. Some knives to cut the cabbage leaves, cutting boards, you know the usual.

But the Slow cooker is a must unless you want to make the Sarmale in a dutch oven. You can certainly do so and bake them in the oven. I’ve just found that it’s easier to make this way.

Directions

Begin by adding the Sour Cabbage Leaves to a bowl of cold water and allow them to soak while prepping the remaining ingredients.

Next, mix the pork, onions, and rice with the herbs and spices. You can do this using your hands or a fork, whichever you prefer.

Now, drain the water from the bowl of cabbage leaves and check to be sure the leaves aren’t too large. If so, certainly cut them in half. It’s ideal to have your Sarmales be somewhat similar in size. You’ll also want to remove the largest rib part at the bottom of the leaves. This will help make them easier to roll.

Place about 2-3 tablespoons of the pork mixture in the center of a cabbage leaf and roll, folding the ends in. Repeat the process until you either run out of filling or cabbage leaves.

Lastly, chop up any remaining cabbage leaves and lay them on the bottom of the Slow Cooker. Now, carefully place each Sarmale in the crockpot, stacking them as you go. Pour the tomato juice in, spread the sliced bacon evenly across the top, and put the lid on the slow cooker.

Cook your Sarmale for 4 hours on low or 8 hours on high. I Recommend planning for the 8 hours as I think the longer they cook more of the flavors combine.

How to Serve Sarmale

Up close photo of Sarmales served over a bed of mashed potatoes and topped with sour cream.

Romanian Cabbage Rolls are traditionally served with Polenta and topped with sour cream. I serve these over a bed of mashed potatoes and still top them with sour cream. The Sour Cream is an absolute must, in my opinion. It adds an extra layer of sourness to the overall flavor.

In Conclusion

Sarmale; Romanian Cabbage Rolls are comfort food that everyone should have the opportunity to try.

Once you’ve tried this recipe, I’m positive the craving will never go away. They’re warm, comforting, full of flavor, and relatively easy to make at home. So, whip up a batch this weekend and tell me how long they lasted in your household in the comments. It won’t be very long if you have anyone like my son and me. I can promise you that!

Also, if you’re looking for a perfect mashed potato recipe to pair with your Cabbage rolls, check out my recipe for the best mashed potatoes ever!

I hope you enjoy this recipe for Sarmale as much as we do, and as usual…

Happy Cooking!

-Jeremy

How to Make Sarmale: Romanian Cabbage Rolls

5 from 4 votes
Recipe by Chicken Fried Kitchen Course: MainCuisine: RomanianDifficulty: Medium

Equipment & Specialty Ingredients

Servings

27

Rolls
Prep time

15

minutes
Cooking time

8

hours 
Calories

152

kcal
Total time

8

hours 

15

minutes

Sarmale is a traditional Romanian dish made from cabbage leaves stuffed with pork and rice. They’re delicious and easy to make at home!

Ingredients

  • 54 Oz 54 Sour Cabbage Leaves – jarred, drained, rinsed

  • 2 lb 2 Ground Pork

  • 1 1 Yellow Onion – finely diced

  • 1 Cup 1 Basmati Rice – uncooked

  • 1/4 Cup 1/4 Fresh Italian Parsley – chopped

  • 1/4 Cup 1/4 Fresh Dill – chopped

  • 2 tsp 2 Dried Thyme

  • 1/2 tsp 1/2 Kosher Salt

  • 4 Cups 4 Tomato Juice

  • 15 Slices 15 Thick Cut Bacon- sliced into smaller pieces

  • Sour Cream for Serving

Directions

  • Add the Sour Cabbage leaves to a bowl of cold water and allow them to soak while prepping the remaining ingredients.
  • Mix the pork, onions, and rice with the herbs and spices.
  • Drain the water from the bowl of cabbage leaves and check to ensure the leaves aren’t too large. If so, cut them in half. Also, cut out the largest rib part at the bottom of the leaves. This will help make them easier to roll.
  • Place about 2-3 tablespoons of the pork mixture in the center of a cabbage leaf and roll, folding the ends inside. Repeat until you either run out of filling or cabbage leaves.
  • Chop up any remaining cabbage leaves and lay them on the bottom of the Slow Cooker. Now, carefully place each Sarmale in the crockpot, stacking them as you go. Pour the tomato juice in, spread the sliced bacon evenly across the top, and put the lid on the slow cooker.
  • Cook your Sarmale for 4 hours on low or high for 8 hours. I Recommend planning for the 8 hours as I think the longer they cook, the more the flavors combine.

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