Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale)

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



  1. 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. :)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?


  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Kate says

    Thank you so much for the recipe! My boyfriend said it tasted just like his mother’s. A huge complement. I made a few substitutions: I used ground turkey and ground lamb, used turkey bacon instead of real bacon, and added chicken broth with the tomato juice. Thank you again! I’m sure I’ll make it many more times.

    • says

      So glad you like them! I’m sure it was wonderful with ground lamb before, your house must have smelled heavenly!

  10. Ashley says

    Buna! I lived in Romania last year and fell in love with sarmale. I lost my recipe and was so glad to find yours. (: I am in China now though and my friends here wanted to taste it and give it a try. I’ve managed to find every ingredient except for dill, parsely, and sour cabbage. Do you have any substitutes that you would recommend?

    • says

      Ouch, dill and sour cabbage are pretty key ingredients. Can you find dry dill, that would work as well. As far as the sour cabbage, you can use just regular white cabbage, but I’d blanch it first for a couple minutes in boiling water, just until the leaves soften. Same with parsley, if you can find the dried version it should work just as well, otherwise, I’d just skip them.

  11. Katep says

    Hi there, the recipe looks great. I’m good at cooking American food but I’ve never tried cabbage rolls before. My boyfriend is romanian and wants me to try some traditional recipes from his culture. Unfortunately he doesn’t eat beef or pork. Any suggestions on keeping the flavor by substituting different meats? Turkey? Lamb? The rice will cook in the rolls I’m assuming?

    • says

      Yes the rice cooks in the rolls. You can use ground chicken or ground turkey or lamb, the only problem I see is that pork is a bit fatter which makes the rolls a bit juicier, but otherwise they should be delicious.

  12. Lora Cotton says

    OMG!!! I have visited the BEAUTIFUL country of Romania four times (mission trips!) I ABSOLUTELY ADORE THE COUNTRY!!! Our hosts while there would prepare most of our afternoon/evening meals, and one of the entire groups FAVES was Cabbage Rolls!!! Our hostess was sweet enough to send us her recipe, however, that was some years ago and unfortunately, I’ve lost it. Finding this recipe was an ABSOLUTE DREAM COME TRUE!!! I adore all types of cabbage rolls, but the ones in Romania were just…..Don’t know how to describe it, but they were just EXTRA special!!!! Unfortunately, my husband can’t eat the cabbage, but I’ll just have him un-roll them and eat the inside!!!! THANK YOU!!!! I’m hoping I can find sour cabbage in the SW Houston area!! LOL!

      • Lora Cotton says

        Thanks for the suggestion, Jo, but my husband suffers from a chronic illness called Gastroparesis. He cannot eat most vegetables, and those that he can have to be almost cooked to death. LOL. That’s why he can’t eat the cabbage, and I doubt that the grape leaves would be advisable either. I can’t wait to make these cabbage rolls. Will end up freezing some too, as it’s just the two of us. Thanks again for the thoughtful suggestion.

  13. Cristina says

    Hi Jo , sau buna

    I am so happy I found your blog.

    Si faptul ca esti in Calgary ajuta de asemenea ca si eu locuiesc aici.

    Pot sa intreb ce fel de bacon ai folosit? Arata super. .

    Numai bine.

    • says

      Buna Cristina :)
      It’s a thick cut bacon, am gasit-o la Superstore and Safeway, nu mai tin minte ce brand e. E foarte misto, mai mult carne de cat grasime. Super buna!

  14. Faye says

    I’m a big cabbage roll fan but I’m not always good at making them. I made these for dinner tonight and they were fantastic. My husband declared they are the best cabbage rolls he has had…and that’s saying a lot with his Ukrainian heritage! Thanks for sharing a great family recipe.

  15. Angie says

    can u cook this in a crock pot since i have a gas stove. 4 hours seems a long time to ahve the gas stove on. want to make this really bad.

    • says

      Hmm, can’t say I’ve ever made these in a crockpot but I don’t see why not, it might actually work out better. Hope your crockpot is big enough for all these cabbage rolls, otherwise you might want to make only half the recipe. Also I would probably cook them for at least a full 8 hours on LOW heat. Try one before just to make sure the meat is cooked through. I’d love to hear how they turn out.

  16. says

    This looks so good. I have never baked cabbage rolls with bacon, I bet it adds such a nice flavor. We prepare cabbage rolls very often, part of our Russian culture. :)

  17. Susanproduce says

    I have what feels like a really stupid question: despite the fact that I’ve been cooking for over 50 years and using a very wide variety of produce, I have no clue about sour cabbage. What is a sour cabbage, and where would one find it? Thank you.

    • says

      Hi Susan,
      Not a stupid question at all. I’m from east Europe and there we use sour cabbage a lot, it’s basically like sauerkraut but the whole cabbage instead of it shredded. If you’ve never had sauerkraut, it’s like pickled cabbage, it goes through the same process as pickling cucumbers. Hope this answers your question! :)

  18. Doug says

    I made the Romanian Cabbage Rolls last night. My wife and I are very impressed. I picked up a sour cabbage in Kitchener this week and then went looking for a recipe. That is how I ended up on your web page.
    I made a few changes to the recipe and used what was in the pantry. I cooked the Basmati rice and used a can of crushed tomatoes plus a can of water instead of the tomato juice.I also used the uncooked Octoberfest Sausage that I purchased at the same market, instead of the ground pork.
    What a dish. I have checked out some of the other recipes and can’t wait to try them.

  19. linda j says

    An easy way to soften cabbage, if you can’t find sour cabbage, is to freeze the whole head overnight. My mom taught me this & it works like a charm. (I use brown rice in my cabbage rolls & that works great too. You recipe is delicious & I am making it for company again this week.

    • says

      You’re absolutely right, my mom used to do that too and it does work. You know brown rice is a great idea. Glad you like the recipe. :)

  20. Brian says

    Hi Jo, I have never made cabbage rolls before but have always enjoyed them from family and friends. I have just used your recipe and have made them in advance for tomorrows dinner but the only thing im a little nervous about is i used cooked rice. I wasnt sure if i was suppose to use cooked or uncooked so i went with cooked. Will these still turn out ok and will they still need to be cooked for 4 hours considering the rice is pre cooked? Thanks for sharing your great recipes.

    • says

      Hi Brian, normally I don’t cook the rice, but I will saute it in a little bit of butter together with the onions just for a minute or two. Since you cooked the rice, I don’t think you need to bake them for 4 hours, I think 2 hours should be enough. What you can do is after 2 hours take one out, the cabbage also needs to be cooked so if you can break it with a fork easily then it’s cooked. Good luck and let me know how they turn out, all we really care about is that they taste great. Just curious, did you use sour cabbage?

      • Rossana says

        I’m from Romania ,I’m making gabbage rolls every Christmas ,since here in USA you can’t find sour cabbage I find a short way but same taste. Boil same water add a lot of lemon juice ,add the whole cabbage and leave it over night,next day drain them ,separate the leaves and make sarmale ,the final product taste just as the one I used to eat in Romania . So good !!!!!!!

    • says

      Hi Jen,
      No you don’t, you just cook the rice with the onions for a minute then add it to the meat. Remember you add tomato juice and water enough to cover the rolls completely, and they will bake for a couple hours, enough time for the rice to cook.
      Good luck and let me know how they turn out.

  21. Linda says

    Hi Jo, I make cabbage rolls that are very similar to yours. I have never heard of sour cabbage, but I put sauerkraut in between the layers of rolls. I put strips of bacon on top of the cabbage on the bottom of the pan and use tomato soup instead of tomato juice. I do use ground beef and sometimes half ground pork if I have it. I don’t cook the onions and also add minced garlic. I be ours taste very similar. Mine are Polish from my Mother. You have great recipes. I just found you on Foodgawker and will be trying lots of your recipes. Thanks Joy!

    • says

      Hi Linda,
      Thank you so much! I’m sure they are very similar, I’ve had Polish cabbage rolls before and they are pretty close to the Romanian ones. In Calgary here we find sour cabbage at Safeway all year round, same thing as sauerkraut, except it’s not chopped up.
      Let me know how it goes with the recipes you try. :)

  22. Amalia says

    Hi Jo –
    I made these yesterday and they came out delicious! The only problem I had was that I did not find sour cabbage, so I bought regular one, but wasn’t sure how to soften the leaves enough so I could roll them. Do you use hot/boling water to accomplish this, and for how long do you soak the cabbage in the water?

    No worries, I had a Plan B – and rolled my sarmale in grape leaves, but I’d live to try cabbage next time.

    • says

      Hi Amalia,
      I never made them myself with regular cabbage, but my mom did, and if I remember correctly she placed the cabbage in boiling water for a few minutes, so the leaves would soften out. I made them with grape leaves before too, and I love them both ways.

      • Amalia says

        Thank you, Jo! I’ll try your Mom’s method next time. The cabbage makes them “heartier”, I think. Besides, that’s how my own Mom used to make them – yumm, and great memories :-)

          • Vlad S says

            You can also make them with pepper. Just cut out the top part of the pepper, get all the seeds out and the stuff the mix inside the pepper. Afterwards just boil them like nomal sarmale
            Enjoy ;)

  23. Florentina says

    Found Sarmale on Pinterest…yupy !!! You filled with joy my Romanian heart :-) Didn’ t make them this year but had them in every house I was, for Christmas.
    As you said: a MUST. La Multi Ani!

  24. says

    Buna! I’m so glad I found your blog! I spent a few months in Romania (Iasi) during college and have been looking for some good Romanian recipes ever since! I think the only one I’m missing a recipe for now is gogosi! Thank you thank you thank you! I cannot wait to try out this recipe and eat some lovely sarmale again.

    • says

      Buna!! Oh don’t remind me, I love gogosi! I don’t have a recipe for them, but I’ll have to see if my mother in law has one. I miss those too. :)

  25. says

    I’ll have to add the dill next time. I’ve never used rice in my German recipe. This sounds good! Minor correction: “after you’ve soaked the cabbage in flour? I think you meant to type ‘water’. Thanks!

    • says

      Normally I’ll use 1/4 cup of parsley and 1/4 cup of dill, but this time I didn’t have any fresh parsley so I just used extra dill, so about 1/2 cup of chopped dill. I used about 15 slices of smoked bacon, but it’s really up to you. Trust me though when I say, those are the best part, those little pieces of bacon. :)

      • Jeanette says


        I have made lots of cabbage rolls but Hungarian or German style. These sound very nice with the addition of dill and bacon.

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