As a nation, we are so proud of our Romanian sarmale, always welcoming foreign visitors with some finger-licking sarmale (and a glass of plum brandy). Usually served with mamaliga (polenta), sour cream and green chilli peppers on the side, or even pickled vegetables like gherkins, or peppers.
While many countries have the tradition of roast turkey when it comes about important holidays, we indulge ourselves in these divine stuffed cabbage rolls. They can a bit heavy, depending on the meat used, so some moderation is the key if you want a happy tummy after a rich meal.
Romanian Sarmale Recipe or stuffed cabbage rolls, a healthy dinner dish made with ground meat and rice, herbs, paprika and seasoning, rolled in cabbage leaves or sauerkraut, and cooked in a light tomato sauce until tender. It’s a traditional dish in Romania, which is a classic recipe at Christmas, but also all year round.
Here’s my mom’s recipe for traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) which I’ve been making for decades. They’re stuffed with pork and rice and baked with lots of bacon in between. They’re the best cabbage rolls you will ever have!
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- ½ cup long grain rice uncooked
- 2 pounds ground pork
- ¼ cup parsley chopped
- ¼ cup fresh dill chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 head sour cabbage about 1 large cabbage
- 15 slices bacon chopped
- 4 cups tomato juice
- water as needed
Soak the sour cabbage in cold water overnight or at least an hour before making these. If you don’t have time, rinse the cabbage well under cold water. Then take each leaf and cut the core from then cut it in half if the leaves are too big.
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.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C).
Fill each leaf with about a ¼ cup of the meat mixture and roll tucking in the ends as you see in the video. Repeat with all the remaining meat and cabbage leaves.
If you have any leftover cabbage leaves you’ll want to chop that up and spread some on the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Then place the cabbage rolls on the chopped cabbage in a single layer. Next, you’ll want to top with bacon, and be generous.
Finish with another layer of cabbage rolls, more bacon and a bit more chopped cabbage. If you like you can also season with some ground pepper.
Pour the tomato juice over the cabbage rolls and add additional water as needed. You want to make sure the rolls are completely covered with liquid.
Cover the Dutch oven with a lid or aluminum foil if your pot doesn’t have a lid and transfer it to the oven. Bake for 2 hours, then remove the lid or foil and cook for another 1 to 1.5 hours.
Serve with polenta and sour cream.
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