My recipe for traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) are made with sour cabbage stuffed with pork, beef, and little bit of bacon. They’re the best cabbage rolls you will ever have!
This recipe for Romanian cabbage rolls is tried and true. I’ve made it probably a hundred times, and have rolled thousands of them! 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 sold in jars. You can also find sour cabbage at your local Polish or Ukrainian stores!
This is my mom’s recipe and it’s my favorite. I won’t eat cabbage rolls made any other way. The other piece that separates Romanian cabbage rolls from the rest is that we add some kind of smoked meat. This time I used smoked bacon. Now I’ve got your attention, hey?
Ingredients in Cabbage Rolls
I know some people avoid making their own cabbage rolls because they assume this type of recipe is complicated. Just look at these ingredients! They’re really simple.
For this recipe you’ll need:
- Vegetable oil – We’ll be using this to saute the onion and rice. You can use any type of oil that you have handy.
- Onion – I used a large onion because this recipe makes a lot of cabbage rolls. Every bite should have onion in it!
- Long grain rice – Basmati rice is best. I wouldn’t use brown rice- it takes a lot longer to cook than white rice and you may end up with crunchy bits in your rolls.
- Ground pork – I love to use pork because it has a higher fat content and makes for some nice juicy rolls. You can use any type of ground meat you like, but keep in mind that leaner meats like chicken or turkey will come out drier.
- Fresh parsley & dill – Using fresh herbs makes such a big difference in how the flavor develops in your rolls!
- Salt & pepper – Season the mixture to your own discretion.
- Sour cabbage leaves – This is what really sets the Romanian version apart from the rest. The little hit of vinegar is to die for!
- Bacon – Find yourself a nice thick-cut smoky style of bacon.
- Tomato juice – This is what our rolls are going to sit and cook in.
How to Make Romanian Cabbage Rolls
This recipe is super easy to prepare. The hardest part is getting through rolling all of that filling, but I promise it’s worth it. Make a day of it and invite some friends and family to help!
- Prepare the filling: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high. Saute the onions until translucent, then add the rice and toast for 1 minute. Add the pork, salt, pepper, parsley, dill, and the onion mixture to a large bowl and mix well. Use salt sparingly – the cabbage leaves are brined.
- Roll the filling: Remove the cabbage leaves from the brine. You can soak them in water beforehand to draw out some of the salt. Cut each leaf in half and fill the piece with a few tbsp of the meat mixture and roll. Refer to the video in the recipe card to see how I roll these nice and tight. Repeat until all the filling has been used.
- Assemble the rolls: Chop up the remaining cabbage leaves and add them to a large pot or deep roasting dish with a lid. Arrange all the rolls over the chopped cabbage and disperse the bacon evenly among the rolls. Pour the tomato juice over the rolls and top up with some water, if needed, to ensure the rolls are covered with liquid.
- Bake the rolls: Cover the pot with a lid or foil. Bake at 375F for 2 hours, then remove the cover and cook for another 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Serve hot with a side of sour cream.
Can I Make This Recipe With Fresh Cabbage?
Using sour cabbage is what sets Romanian cabbage rolls apart from the rest. If you can’t find any, then you can use fresh cabbage instead.
Follow these steps:
- Carefully separate the leaves from your head of cabbage. Bring a large and generously salted pot of water to a boil, and cook the leaves for about 3 minutes.
- Remove the leaves and let them cool. Cut out the thickest part of each leaf at the bottom by slicing on each side of the rib to form a triangle.
That’s it! You can follow my method for rolling the perfect cabbage rolls by checking out the video in the recipe card.
Can I Make Cabbage Rolls Ahead of Time?
This recipe is perfect for making the night before. You can assemble all the rolls, chopped cabbage, and bacon in your baking dish, cover well with plastic wrap or foil, then pour the tomato juice in when you’re ready to cook the rolls.
Pro Tips for Making the Best Cabbage Rolls
- Sour cabbage can be pretty salty, so let it soak in a big pot of water for an hour or two before you assemble your rolls.
- You can use a mixture of ground meats. Pork+beef, beef+chicken, turkey+pork, or beef+lamb are all great combinations.
- Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together. This is the best way to make sure all the ingredients are mixed evenly.
- Try out riced cauliflower (uncooked) instead of regular rice for a low-carb option.
How to Store Leftover Cabbage Rolls
These will last in your fridge for 3-4 days. Cover the baking dish well with plastic wrap or foil, or you can transfer the leftovers to an airtight container. They will also last 3-4 months in your freezer. Make sure to save all that juice as well! You’ll need it to reheat the rolls.
How to Reheat Cabbage Rolls
If they’re frozen, transfer them to the fridge a day before you want to eat them so they can thaw. Place the rolls to a baking dish, with the juice, and bake at 350F for about 1 hour.
Craving More Romanian Recipes? Try These!
- Romanian Meatball Soup (Ciorba de Perisoare)
- Romanian Stuffed Peppers (Ardei Umpluti)
- Walnut Roll (Cozonac cu Nuca)
- Pasca- Romanian Easter Bread
- Beef Salad (Salata de Boeuf)
- Stuffed Pepper Soup
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Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Heat the oil in a skillet, add the onions and cook until softened and translucent. Add the rice and cook for another minute.
- In a large bowl, add the ground pork, salt, pepper, parsley, dill and the onion and rice mixture. Be careful with the salt, not too much is needed because the sour cabbage is already salty. Mix well using your clean hands.
- 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 leaf for one roll.
- Fill each leaf with about a couple tbsp of the meat mixture and roll. Repeat with all the remaining meat and cabbage. If you have any cabbage left over, chop it up and spread it over the bottom of a big pot.
- Put all the rolls in the pot, add the chopped bacon in between the cabbage rolls and add the tomato juice over the rolls. Add more water if needed, the juice should cover the cabbage rolls entirely. Cover the pot with aluminum foil or a lid.
- Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours, remove the foil or lid and place back in the oven and cook for another 1 ½ to 2 hours. Serve hot with a bit of sour cream on top and with a side of polenta.
- I usually find sour cabbage leaves at my local grocery store like Sobey's or Safeway, but you can also find them at European markets. You can also order it from amazon here.
- You can use fresh cabbage instead of sour cabbage, but more work is required. You first have to blanch the cabbage. To do so, core the cabbage first, one large cabbage should be enough for this recipe. In a large pot of boiling slated water, add the cabbage and blanch it for 5 to 8 minutes or until leaves are softened. Remove from the pot and chill under cold water.
- Another alternative to softening the cabbage leaves is to wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it for a couple days. Remove the cabbage from the freezer and thaw it out at room temperature. Once the cabbage has thawed out, the leaves should be softened.
- Recipe yields about 20 cabbage rolls, depends on the size of your rolls.
- These will last in your fridge for 3-4 days. Cover the baking dish well with plastic wrap or foil, or you can transfer the leftovers to an airtight container. They will also last 3-4 months in your freezer. Make sure to save all that juice as well! You’ll need it to reheat the rolls.