Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale)

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Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls are made with sour cabbage stuffed with pork and beef and little bit of bacon, the best cabbage rolls you will ever have.


Here’s my tried and true cabbage rolls recipe that is a must have for every Christmas. First of all, the big difference between Romanian cabbage rolls and others are that we make them with sour cabbage.  You can find sour cabbage at pretty much all grocery stores, here in Calgary, we always find them at Safeway or any Polish store. With sour cabbage you have to be careful because it is pretty salty, so what I usually do is a few hours before actually assembling the rolls, I put the cabbage in a big pot with water, so some of the salt gets out of it.

This is how I learned to make cabbage rolls from my mother and they are my favorite. The other thing that we do with cabbage rolls, is we add some kind of smoked meat. This time I used smoked bacon. The idea of adding smoked meat is to add some smoked flavor. It really makes the cabbage rolls taste great. Now, although, we always make cabbage rolls at every Christmas and Easter, we do make them other times as well. They are so delicious, you can’t stop eating just a couple rolls.

Cabbage rolls are easy to make, it’s just time consuming to make the rolls. That’s why when we make cabbage rolls we make lots. The good thing about cabbage rolls is that you can freeze them.

First of all, chop the onion and saute it with the oil, just enough until the onion is translucent. I also like to add the rice to the onion and cook it together for a minute or so. In a large bowl, add the ground pork, dill, onion, rice, and salt and pepper.

Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together. Make sure you mix it well.

For these cabbage rolls, I used 2 smaller sour cabbages because we couldn’t find a large one. After you’ve soaked the cabbage in water, remove the leaves off the cabbage one by one, and cut each leaf in two, if the leaf is too big. I also cut the core piece off. Place them on a plate so they are ready for you when you start rolling.

Get your bacon ready as well or whatever smoked meat you use, just cut it up in smaller pieces.

With the remaining sour cabbage, usually I leave some leaves on the core and I chop it up and place at the bottom of my big baking dish. Depends on how many cabbage rolls you’re making but you’ll need a fairly big dish, that’s deep enough to hold at least 2 rows of cabbage rolls.

Start rolling the cabbage rolls. I like mine a bit smaller, but I know some people make them really large. I usually use about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture in each rolls. Roll them up and line them up in your dish. After the first row add the bacon in between the rolls. Continue until done with meat mixture.

Pour the liter of tomato juice all over the cabbage rolls. If the cabbage rolls are not completely covered, add water. Cover them up with the lid, or aluminum foil and bake in a preheat 375 F degree oven for 2 hours. After two hours, you’ll notice most of the juice has evaporated so you might need to add more water, you don’t necessarily have to fill it up to the top this time. Bake for another 2 hours without the lid on. Your house will smell wonderful.


They are just wonderful, truly one of my favorite dishes ever.

4.8 from 4 reviews
Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 10
  • 2 to 3 lbs ground pork (or whatever meat you prefer)
  • ½ cup long grain rice (I prefer basmati)
  • 1-2 onions chopped
  • parsley
  • dill
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 L tomato juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large sour cabbage
  • 15 slices of bacon
  1. Chop the onions and fry them in the oil until tender. Add rice and cook for another minute. Add onion and rice mixture to ground pork and add salt, pepper, dill and parsley and mix well with your hands. Now it's time to assemble the rolls.
  2. Remove all the cabbage leaves and cut each leaf in half. Romanian cabbage rolls are traditionally smaller than the Polish cabbage rolls, so that's why I recommend cutting each leaf in half, otherwise you can use the entire leave for one roll.
  3. Fill each half leaf with a big tbsp of the meat mixture and roll. Put all the rolls in a big pot and add the liter of tomato juice over the rolls. Add more water if needed, the juice should cover the rolls entirely. Cover the pot with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 4 hours.
  4. After 2 hours remove the foil and put back in the oven. Serve hot with a bit of sour cream on top.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 4 cabbage rolls


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  1. Tanya says

    Thank you so much. The dill adds a very special unique flavor. My Romanian husband loved them. Used the rest of the meat to make meatballs (meatballs, cabbage, sauerkraut covered with tomato juice in oven), they made great meatball sandwiches.

  2. Ray A says is one of quite a few places in Seattle where they have sour cabbage leaves. Any Russian or Eastern European grocery should have this. BTW I always make mine in a slow cooker on low for 6+ hours after the initial saute and I use chicken stock instead of water and I add some Padron peppers. My Romanian friends ask ME to make this :-)

  3. Nell says

    Hi Jo,
    I travelled through Romania with a tour group and had this so many times. I’ve made a few different recipes but really love your recipe. When in the process do you usually freeze them?? I would love to make these ahead and have them available (sometimes they’re a bit time consuming mid-work week).
    I always boil my own cabbage leaves as haven’t ever seen a whole sour cabbage in Australia. I core the cabbage and add it to a large pot of boiling water with vinegar and salt. Any leaves I don’t use I chop up as a layer on the bottom and sometimes in the middle.
    Thanks for a great easy recipe!

    • says

      Hi Nell,
      I have frozen them before at different stages. You can roll up the cabbage rolls and freeze them like that, so when you want to cook them just thaw them out before. This way you have nice fresh cabbage rolls. I have also frozen them already cooked, and this way works too, I have actually frozen them for about a month and they’re still good. So I guess it really depends on how much time you have. Let me know how they turn out. :)

  4. says

    Big like Jo, armale sunt cele mai bune si eu mi-am incantat musafirii cu ele si am sa atasez si eu reteta. felicitari si sarbatori fericite alaturi de cei dragi tie.

    O imbratisare din Romania.

  5. Amalia Young says

    Made these a few weeks ago, and am preparing a new batch tomorrow, for Christmas! I love your recipe, Jo! I also used it with grape leaves instead of cabbage, but the latter is by far more tasty (and authentic) :-)
    I am lucky there’s a Romanian store near by, where I can find pickled cabbage in large jars – this is the best I’ve used so far. I’ve also seen it in other European stores.

  6. Rose says

    Hi Jo,

    I am looking at different recipe for cabbage rolls, and yours caught my eye! I cant wait to try it. Should the rice that’s added to the onions be cooked or uncooked?


  7. Corinne D. says

    Oh Jo! Your cabbage rolls are making my mouth water!! Thank you for sharing your recipe and for taking such great photos of the ingredients and finished product.
    I ate these for the first time at a Ukrainian/Taiwanese wedding last night and can’t wait to make them myself. The cabbage rolls I ate definitely had garlic in them so I will experiment with that in your recipe. If you have any suggestions on adding garlic I would appreciate your advice. Thanks Jo!

    • says

      Hmm, we’ve never put garlic in them, I’m not sure if I’d like garlic in them, and I usually love garlic. We do put garlic in meatballs but not cabbage rolls. If you make them let me know how you like them. :)

      • says

        Yes Jo, you are right. We put garlic in meatballs which would have no taste without. But in sarmale?? No.
        Your recipe is perfect, just one thing I left out, the dill. Although I looove it, for some reason I do not like it in my sarmale. Anyway, great recipe. Thanks and happy holidays!

  8. llgregg says

    The only sauerkraut (German style) I’ve ever seen has been in bottles or cans. I have never seen a sour cabbage as a cabbage head. I have not been able to find a sour cabbage here near Seattle, even in the stores you listed which are here, also. Is the whole cabbage a marinated item? The pictures make me ravenous for the rolls, which I will make aa soon as I have the cabbage. Please advise.

    • says

      Hi there,
      I’m not sure where you’d find it in Seattle, but sour cabbage is like pickled cabbage, just like the sour cabbage that comes in jars, except it’s a whole head. I linked the item in the ingredients to the amazon link, you can get it from amazon. Hope this helps.

  9. says

    hello Jo, I am making sarmale for the first time. My husband is from Maramures! I want to make tomorrow, however serve the next day (July 4). Is it possible to just reheat the next day? Can’t wait to try. :)

    • says

      Of course, I even freeze mine because I always make more than we can eat. You can either reheat them on the stove or in the microwave.

  10. Dee says

    My family also eats cabbage rolls as a Christmas tradition. Because I’m the only one in our family who knows how to make them, and because there are so many I need to make, I’ve started cooking them in crock pots. I fill the pots, send them off with family members, they bring them in cooked on Christmas afternoon. They taste no differently than if cooked in the oven.

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