Sarmale Recipe Success!

Well Ladies and Gentlemen,

What looked like a failed cooking afternoon turned around unexpectedly into a success story. The Sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls) turned out as it should – the rolls didn’t fall apart, they remained stiff, retaining their initial shape, the taste was full of cabbage flavor with a flagrant tomatoe aroma. One thing that I should have added more was salt. But better less than over-salted.



Cabb ‘n’ Roll Challenged

Forming the rolls was by far the most difficult task from this recipe. The cabbage leaves were very sturdy even if I froze the cabbage for about 24 hours. I used two kind of cabbage types – regular and savoy cabbage, a variety that has curled and crinkled leaves in a compact head. I had to remove the harder stem part of the leave to make rolling possible.
I thing I need a couple lessons from the ladies in Romania like the one in the video here. Just look at the dexterity she is using to roll the sarmale!
Of course the secret lies in making sarmale with brine pickled cabbage. Beside the fact that the leaves become tender without ripping apart, the pickling ads extra flavor to the whole mix.

Adapted Sarmale Recipe

I had to learn the hard way to put up my hopes for a certain dish to taste like in my native land. And of course the main issue having all to do with the way ingredients, legumes, fruits and ultimately meat is grown in America where the agricultural industry is driven by much show but less taste. More on this subject, read Organic America.

Sarmale Closeup

I compiled a recipe after reading through a couple different ones from several sources. Obviously I tried to reflect the authentic way of cooking sarmale or at least how I remember it. Plan on usually doing a huge amount. Sarmale get tastier with age in the fridge. Here we go:

1 Lb ground pork
1 Lb ground veal or beef
1 Large onion minced
1 cup rice (white)
1 can tomatoe sauce (non-spiced)
2 cloves garlic
1 Tb paprika
1 Tsp freshly ground pepper
1½ Tsp salt
1 Tbs marjoram
1 Lb sauerkraut
4-5 sprigs of fresh dill or parsley
1-2 bay leaves (imported)
1 Tbs canola oil
6 cups chicken broth (home made)


Some of you are probably frantically looking for the comment button to let me know that I forgot one key element for the sarmale recipe – the smoked bacon! I was aware but willingly omitted that since my wife doesn’t necessarily likes the smoke flavor in the mix.

The procedure is very simple. In a large pan, sautee the minced onion and garlic with the oil for about 5 minutes, add the paprika and take off the heat. Add this to a large mixing bowl together with the ground pork, veal (or beef), rice, ground pepper, salt marjoram, half of the dill chopped and mix well.

Lay a bed of sauerkraut (about 1 inch) on the bottom of a large pot (preferably cast iron for optimal heat transfer and distribution), add 2-3 sprigs of dill and build a surrounding wall out of your stuffed cabbage rolls, by placing them seam down and pointing to the center.

Fill up the center space with the remaining rolls, sprinkle about 1 tsp salt, pepper to taste, add the bay leaves, 3-4 sprigs of dill, and add the remaining sauerkraut on the top. Don’t top the pot to the rim like I did because the rice will expand while cooking pushing the entire sarmale up. Leave about one inch to the rim. Add the tomato sauce and broth making sure that the liquid level comes up to the top level of rolls. Bring it to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Boil it for the next 4 hours.

Legend says that the more you keep the sarmale in the fridge, the better it will become! It is true! The next day they were more tender and full of flavor!

My next step will be making real sauerkraut! I called my Dad in Romania and he gave me precious advice! Hopefully I won’t stink up our whole basement!

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86 thoughts on “Sarmale Recipe Success!”

  • Carolyn! You rock!

    Thanks much for the precious info! I made a note of the distributor’s name. Next time I go grocery, I’ll hunt for it! Thanks again!

  • Gabi, the last time I had real Sarmale was in 1987 in Timisoara. A long time ago, but I can still remember how great they were. Now my wife is cooking them for me and I cannot wait to put my teeth into them 🙂 Great recipe.


  • Since 1987 ?!?!? It is time for you for some real stuff! Let me know how they turned out!! Hehe – thanks for the comment!

  • LOVE THESE! I like the bacon in there but use regular bacon not smoked. I actually like to put bits in with the pork and then wrap each roll with one slice. I love bacon thouhg, clearly!

    And I was born in Timisoara. 🙂

  • Thanks, Gabi! –

    You mean not smoked bacon like Italian Pancetta? Wrap each roll in Prosciutto??? Whoa – although scandalous – it sounds SUBLIME!! You made me curious! Can you send more details? We’ll stay out of the way of the Sarmale Police. 🙂

  • Wow, your recipe looks excellent–I found your page while looking for instructions on making mamaliga to go with the sarmale I made last night for my family (sarmale, I can do–mamaliga, I’ve never gotten right, haha), so I figured to see what you have to say on the subject of sarmale.

    Just thought I’d point out that everyone I’ve spoken to on the subject has used savory in their recipies–about a tablespoon in the meat-rice mix, and if possible, a few stalks in the pot while boiling. I’ve also found that cloves and cinnamon give the sarmale a unique taste.

    Mulțam, și poftă bună!

  • Thanks a lot for the recipe! My wife and I have made it a few times since last year with great results and impressed our family. We have also found it works to substitute soy for the meat and vegan broth for the chicken broth to make a version that is still acceptable during the Lenten fast. Thanks again!

  • Thanks for the recipe, my grandma makes these … Wonderful!
    My daughter and I are digging in to our Romanian heritage and surprised to find many of the foods we have always had are a part of our culture. One day I sincerely hope to explore my home country.

  • hey every one
    my name is Aj
    like u all i m not from west i m from Pakistan
    this dish look delicious
    have to check this out

  • Hi Moggie – I know a couple people here did or attempted pickling (me included), but honestly at least for me, after a stinky failure, I’d rather buy the already pickled cabbage leaves that you can find in ethnic grocery stores…

  • Hi Gabi

    I just want to say thanks for posting the recipe. My husband is Romanian and he absolutely loves Sarmale. I am british and have never made it before but it is his birthday next week so now ive come across ur recipe im going to attempt it for him. I will let u know how it goes.

  • Savanna! Thanks for the comment! How cool is THAT – a British girl attempting top make Sarmale! Way to go!
    Try to find pickled cabbage leaves if you can in certain ethnic stores. That’ll amplify the result. Yes – please write back with the results. Also read the rest of the comments here, you might find some helpful tips!


  • Hi my name is Costin
    And i came from Romania and would love to make this food Sarmale but it takes
    so long to do it. Is there any other way were would not take 4to 5hours to cook
    I would love to do it for Christmas for my family. And i know that Romanian food
    take s so long and a lot of work into it.
    Also would like to know if there is any way of buying this food and have it sent to my house. jk and also would like to know how to make COZONAC
    its a coffe cake and would love to have that also for CHRISTMAS and when and if i do this sarmale what kind of food could i putt with it.
    Pls let me know what i can do i need help with this Q. and need an Answer.

    Tnks Costin

  • I’ve just started my own blog as an British expat cooking Romanian food (or at least trying to!) but I’ve not yet had the courage to post a sarmale recipe – it’s definitely one of those recipes that you can never cook as well as your guest’s mama did! I’ll try it in the coming months, especially as we approach the festive season, but I’ve got to say that yours look particularly mouthwatering! I love the rich tomato-paprika-ish redness of them.
    Sa-ti fie de bine!

  • I’m an American who spent many wonderful years in Brasov and am interested to know how to make the white sauce that I was served with it sometimes along with zacousca. I miss both.

  • Buna Seara! Sunt fericit ca am gasit site-ul tau. Sotia mea si eu am lucrat in Moldova anul trecut. I really miss living there.Totul a fost fuerte bine Si vinul….En SAU nu a Brinza, vin ieftin.. Sorry for my poor Limba Romana. I will be making some sarmale this weekend.
    Pofti buna Si multumesc.

  • Buna dimineata (here)! Thanks for the comment! You are doing great in Romanian – keep it going. A successful sarmale dish will validate you at least a 75% Romanian!

  • Hi Jennifer. I am trying to guess what was that white sauce. Can it be tzatxiki sauce? If yes, that’s more of a Greek cuisine dish than ROmanian. Just guessing…

  • You are very right! My sarmale won’t turn as right as I remember them, once because you need the right ingredients that were grown regionally in the country. Second your Mama would ALWAYS make it better, period! lol… I think the main issue to overcome here is to find the right varza murata.

  • Re: Your mama would always make it better”

    This reminded me of a “fable” my mom used to tell and laugh many times while growing up.
    There was a newly wed girl who would slave over the stove all day long to cook the best she can for when her husband would come from work.
    He would eat, but at the end would tell her with dissapointment: “Is OK but just not as good as my mom used to make”:(
    One time she was a little behind and hurried to cook and clean and whatever else and she just forgot about the dinner cooking on the stove. By the time she remembered it was burned up and too late to start another one, so with shame and sorrow she just did the best she could and served the dinner when he came home. She was ready to face another dissapointment from him. He ate, licked his fingers and said: “Now THIS is the best I ever tasted, just like my mom used to make!!!” 🙂

  • Hi!
    Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
    I was born in Brasov, Romania, but I live in Toronto. I have no big problems finding pickled cabbage here, although nothing compares to what I had in Romania. I tried different vacuum packed sauerkraut, but I found a Bulgarian brand that brings pickled cabbage foils packed in stacks in glass jars, and I am quite OK with it. I buy these in Highland farm, a superstore that has some European type of food. Sauerkraut is also available in Polish/Romanian stores. For this Christmas I did 3 medium pots with sarmale. I also baked two “cozonaci cu nuca”.
    Happy to discover your blog.
    Craciun fericit! La multi ani!

  • Sabrina! Thanks for the comment! Curious to know of that Bulgarian sauerkraut brand. We have all sorts of ethnic groceries in Chicago, so there’s a good chance I can find it. And you are RIGHT! It is never as good as in Romania. Craciun Fericit si La multi ani la fel!

  • Try this for authentic original Sarmale best never had better in my life!
    Do not use onion or garlic nor bay leafs! nothing is pre cooked! never use fresh cabbage use sauerkraut leafs heads you get from Deli!
    Wash and soak the leafs before u use them very important!
    Make sure the meat mixture is very sloppy and taste it before you roll them for seasoning then spit it out! Never use any form of stock in the mince or the sauce! Very important to use black pepper corn about 8-12 peppercorns in the sauce the sauce should be almost transparent pink in color not RED! Mix your rinsed rice uncooked in the mince mixture along with two tablespoons of tomato puree I never use paprika!
    Do not use more than half cup of rice to your mince mixture medium or large grain!
    Do not use olive oil only sunflower oil or vegetable!
    Use bacon in between layers! no flour is used in this dish!
    Bring to boil always shaking the pot so they do not stick or burn then drop your heat to lowest! there should be a plate on top and lid!
    cooking time is not less than 2 hours from the time you turn the heat down!
    They should be served with French cream or sour cream and polenta on the side! When cooking make sure the sauce just covers the the top row!
    I only use pork and beef mince same quantity!
    This is the original traditional and best Sarmale recipe that kicks ass my Romanian mother that passed away last year bless her soul taught me this way! never encountered better recipe in my life or tasted better!
    Even back in the old country she was famous for her Sarmale!
    Please enjoy!!!!!!!!!
    from Australia

  • thanks SO MUCH for the detailed tips! These are PRECIOUS! I think I loved it so much that I will actually try your recipe.

    thanks AGAIN!

  • my wife is romanian.. she challanged me to make sarmale… I used your recipie.. she said mine was better than her grandmothers.. yes.. folding the cabbage is the hardest part.. I will admit.. but well worth the effort… My wife is from cluj

  • Wow, Christopher – your sarmale was better than your Romanian wife’s?? You deserve instant Romanian citizenship! Congrats!! Love Cluj!!

  • Did you cook the rice first? Have several recipes that do, my Romanian friend never did. Love Romania, lived in Cluj for 2.5 years.

  • Thanks for the comment, Mary! No, the rice isn’t cooked when you make sarmale. It’s being cooked during the long several hours simmering. Hope it helps!

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