Romanian Cabbage Rolls

The Romanian Cabbage Rolls- Sarmale – are one of the most delicious dishes that Romanian people prepare for family gatherings and especially for holidays. During the summer they are made with green cabbages and during the winter they can be made with sour cabbage as well. Cabbage leaves are stuffed with ground meat, rice and herbs mixture and then cooked with tomato juice and some smoked meat for extra flavor.  Fresh dill and thyme are the most used herbs in preparing this dish. Traditionally, cabbage rolls are served warm with polenta and sour cream and I must say they are simply amazing.

The recipe I share with you is from my mother, she has been doing the best cabbage rolls ever :). Though the recipe is not difficult it does take some time to prepare but worth all the effort. To make things easier cabbage leaves can be prepared in advance and refrigerated until ready to use. Cabbage rolls keep well refrigerated for up to a week and can be frozen as well. They are healthy, delicious and simply addictive. Hope you will try these Romanian Cabbage Rolls, I am sure you will love them.

Romanian Cabbage Rolls with polenta

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Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Romanian Cabbage Rolls

5 from 1 vote
The Romanian Cabbage Rolls - Sarmale - are one of the most delicious dishes that Romanian people prepare for family gatherings and especially for holidays. During the summer they are made with green cabbages and during the winter they can be made with sour cream as well.
Servings 70 servings
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes


For preparing the cabbage leaves

  • 2 medium cabbages
  • 1 tbsp (15g) salt
  • 4-5 thyme sprigs
  • 2 fresh dill sprigs
  • hot boiling water

Meat Filling

  • 4 medium onions (500g) , chopped
  • 5 tbsp (70g) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (65g) tomato paste
  • 2 tsp (4g) paprika
  • 1 1/4 (250g) long grain rice , rinsed and drained
  • 1 pound (450g) ground pork
  • 1/4 pound (110g) ground beef
  • 1/2 cup (25g) fresh dill , chopped
  • 1 ½ tsp (7g) salt
  • 1 ½ tsp (5g) ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp (3g) salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill , chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper

For adding on top of the rolls

  • 14 oz (400g) can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound (230g) smoked pork ribs , cut in smaller pieces
  • Hot salted water


  • Remove core from cabbages. In a large pot bring water to a boil, enough to almost cover the cabbage. Add salt, few thyme and dill sprigs. Immerse cabbage in boiling water with core side down. Cook over medium-high heat 5 to 10 minutes. Turn and gently remove leaves. When the leaves are tender and flexible remove and let them cool. 
  • Prepare the filling. In a frying pan heat oil over medium high heat. Cook onion until soft and glossy. Stir in paprika and tomato paste and remove from heat. Let cool slightly. Add rice, ground pork and beef, dill, salt and pepper. Stir until well combined.
  • Trim the thick veins from cabbage leaves for easier rolling and set aside. Cut leaves in smaller pieces if too large. Chop any leftover cabbage (middle part) and the veins and place in a bowl. Mix chopped cabbage with dill, salt and pepper. Place few thyme sprigs on the bottom of a large pot, place half of the chopped cabbage and few dill sprigs on top.
  • Start making the cabbage rolls. Place 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of mixture on the center of the bottom of each leaf. Fold in the sides and start rolling the cabbage leaf to create a roll.Place on the prepared pot and continue until all the filling is done. Place the other half of chopped cabbage over the top of the rolls.
  • Add diced tomatoes on top, arrange the pork ribs and pour hot salted water until the cabbage rolls are almost covered with liquid.
  • Cover the pot and cook at medium heat until they start to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Serve cabbage rolls warm with sour cream and polenta.



Serving: 1gCalories: 331kcalCarbohydrates: 27.2gProtein: 24.7gFat: 13.6gSaturated Fat: 3.6gCholesterol: 67mgSugar: 3.8g
Calories: 331kcal
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Romanian
Keyword: cabbage dish, cabbage rolls, holiday dishes, meat cabbage rolls, romanian cabbage rolls, sarmale, stuffed cabbage rolls

Did you make this recipe?

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Join the Conversation

  1. Tara Author says:

    This looks amazing! Thanks for posting the video. I plan on making this in the next week or two. I love cabbage and have been looking for more recipes using it.

  2. heba Ahmed Author says:

    Hello Ella
    I liked your Romanian way in Cabbage Rolls we here in Egypt have it as a very popular dish 🙂 but with some differences can I replace pork meat with only beef meat can I add fresh coriander to dill also what is the replacement of smoked pork ribs, thank you for your delicious recipes

    1. Ella-HomeCookingAdventure Author says:

      Sure.. you can use only beef and use any herbs you like best. As for the ribs you can leave them out, or use some sort of smoked beef just for the flavor. 

  3. Helga Author says:

    Ich bin so begeistert von diesem Rezept, das ich es nachkochen werden.

  4. Lili Author says:

    This is a hungarian recipe cooked by hungarian ethnics (seclers) in Romania, is not a Romanian dish.The original recipe is made from vegetables (taken from the Ottomans during Turkish occupation ), and the vegetables being replaced with meat and sauerkraut. So the credit for this exceptional dish is going to the hungarians.

  5. Monica Author says:

    Hi Ella, I came across your Raspberry chocolate cups recipe, liked the idea (you make doing the chocolate cups look very easy ;)) and went exploring the rest of your site., which is great by the way. When I came across the Romanian cabbage rolls I told myself you must be Romanian. I saw in the posts that I was right. Yay!!! since I am Romanian as well. I hope you don’t mind a little additional potential way of making this recipe…I feel, the most important thing for the Romanian cabbage rolls recipe is for the cabbage to be pickled. That’s what differentiates our Romanian rolls from the rest of the Europe ones (for example the Polish). The taste is very different and while I may be a little biased here, the Romanian ones are so much better because of the pickled cabbage. For those who don’t have pickled cabbage there’s a way to pickle it with vinegar (for one liter of water add one cup of vinegar and one tablespoon of salt. Add the cabbage in this mixture while boiling, turn heat off and let sit for one hour). You can also add sauerkraut (which can be bought in the US in any grocery store) in between the rolls. I realize for those who are not Romanian this may be extra work they may not be willing to put in (and if that’s why you altered the recipe, you were very clever) but for those who do take the time to do it, they will get a much better tasting dish. Anyway, sorry for any intrusion and please keep up the good work! As for the chocolate cups I have attempted making them and, while the first 2 cracked, due to my own silliness and not listening to you when you said make them pretty thick, the rest came out beautifully! Thank you and particularly for the video on that recipe. Made it so much easier for me.

  6. Cristina Author says:

    Hi Ella,it’s so great to see a romanian dish here.
    I’m from Romania,and the most prepared dish for Christmas is ‘sarmale’ 🙂
    I love this food!
    I love your recipes,too
    Good job!

  7. Susan Author says:

    Loving these recipes Ella 🙂

  8. Valerie Author says:

    Hi, my Romanian grandmother was famous for making this at our Romanian Orthodox church and hall in Montreal in the sixties and seventies. She would cook for 200 people. She never spoke English, but neither she nor anyone in our community called them Sarmale. They were called Galishkis (English pronounciation as I don’t know how to spell it). Strangely, I can’t find that term anywhere on the internet. Her recipe was very similar to yours, except that maybe she put bacon in the filling. Thanks for posting it.

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