Sarmale Recipe (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)


December 16, 2018

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This traditional Romanian Sarmale stuffed cabbage rolls recipe is rich in flavor and features fresh herbs, tomatoes, and sustainably sourced pork that is rolled in cabbage and baked to perfection in a delicious tomato sauce.

From the moment I began making this recipe, and the aroma began to fill my kitchen I knew that this dish would quickly become a family favorite.

This is what I love about celebrating and experiencing other food cultures, because often you can find dishes that have been made for centuries and yet you would never be exposed to if it wasn’t for an exploration and appreciation for traditions different from your own.

In many ways, celebrating and learning about different food cultures is like getting a history lesson of the world. From the spices, flavors, and ingredients used, to the various methods of cooking, every group of people have a food culture that is uniquely their own — how wonderful is that.

Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture

Celebrating Traditional Food Culture

While stuffed cabbage rolls may not be a typical dish enjoyed by most Americans, this flavorful dish is enjoyed all year round in Romania and is especially popular during Christmas and on other holidays. While Sarmale may be unique to Romania, stuffed cabbage rolls recipes can be found throughout all of Eastern Europe and in many other cultures like Greece, Italy, and other middle eastern countries which all have their own versions, but may use other ingredients like grape leaves for the rolls.

Sarmale, however is a traditional cabbage and meat dish that comes from Romania and is made using sour cabbage, pork, a variety of spices, and tomato juice. The result is one of the most aromatic and flavorful meals one could ask for.

Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture

How To Make Stuffed Cabbage rolls

While most stuffed cabbage rolls recipes are pretty simple (as many traditional dishes are), the tricky part that takes some practices comes with rolling up the cabbage leaves. I know that with time this process will get easier, but just like anything else there is a technique involved with rolling cabbage rolls that just takes practice.

step one: Make Your Filling

The first step to making any kind of cabbage rolls is to prep the filling that you will be using to actually stuffed the cabbage with.

Step Two: Prep The Cabbage Leaves

What I find to be the most helpful when making stuffed cabbage rolls is to make sure that the cabbage leaves have been softened before removing them from the cabbage. Allowing the cabbage to soak in hot water before hand allows the leaves to easily remove from the cabbage, and makes for much easier rolling.

I also would recommend trying to find two small to medium size cabbages instead of one large one. The smaller cabbages again I found were easier to remove the leaves from and make for a more ideal size for rolling.

Step Three: Stuff and Roll The Cabbage Rolls

When it comes to rolling up your cabbage don’t worry about them being perfect. While you do want to try and get them as tight as possible to keep in all the flavors of the meat inside, the point here isn’t about how perfect they look — trust me even the imperfect rolls will still taste incredible.

To roll the cabbage, simply place 1 large tablespoon of filling into the bottom-center of the cabbage leaf. Then fold up the bottom and sides like an envelope and roll from the bottom to the top.

Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture

Step Four: Place IN A Cast Iron Pan & Cover With Tomato Sauce

As you are rolling up your stuffed cabbage rolls start to add them to a large cast iron pan, layering them as you go. Once you have gone through all your filling, pour your prepped tomato sauce over the rolls and sprinkle with chopped bacon.

Step Five: Bake in the oven for 2 hours

Now it’s time to be patient. This Sarmale dish will take a few hours to bake but is well worth the wait. After about two hours remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving with a dollop of sour cream.

Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture

traditional Romanian sarmale Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe


  • 2 small sour cabbages

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 large onion (minced)

  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)

  • 1/4 cup uncooked rice

  • 1 lb ground pork

  • 12 ounces bacon (chopped)

  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)

  • 1/4 cup fresh dill (chopped)

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

  • 4 cups tomato juice


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

  • Fill a large pot with water and add the cabbage. Bring to boil for ~5 minutes or until the cabbage leaves have softened and can be easily removed.

  • Next, in a large skillet, heat the oil and add the onions and garlic. Cook until onions are soft. Next, add the rice and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

  • In a large bowl combine the ground pork, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, parsley, and dill. Next, add the onion, garlic, and rice mixture to the bowl and mix well with clean hands.

Assembling The Cabbage Rolls

  • Remove the cabbage leaves and begin to fill each leaf with a few tablespoons of the meat mixture.

  • Roll the cabbage leaf by tucking in the sides and rolling from the bottom up.

  • Repeat until all the meat mixture has been used. If you have any remaining cabbage leafs you can chop them up and add them to the bottom of your cast iron pan or dutch oven.

  • Once all the cabbage has been rolled, place each roll in a cast iron pan or dutch oven. If necessary you can stack the rolls.

  • Next, add the chopped bacon between the cabbage rolls and then pour the tomato juice over the rolls. The juice should cover the cabbage rolls entirely so add additional water or tomato juice if needed.

  • Cover the cast iron pan or dutch oven and place in the oven to bake for 2 hours.

  • Serve hot immediately with sour cream on top.

Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN

Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN

Megan is a maternal-child health dietitian and mom of two. With nearly a decade of experience working in maternal-child nutrition both domestically and abroad, Megan is passionate about supporting mothers and their little ones through pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond.

Megan especially loves helping to nourish families with simple, delicious recipes that both children and adults will enjoy. All of the recipes at MADRE are gluten free, and focused on celebrating food culture, seasonality, and supporting the nutritional needs of growing children, mothers, and families.

Megan holds a MS in Nutrition and MPH in Global Health from Tufts University, and received her dietetic license (RDN) from Brigham and Women's Hospital. She has advanced training in pediatric nutrition and baby led weaning, and is currently working towards becoming a certified lactation consultant.

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Mom of two girls under two, and registered dietitian specializing in prenatal, postpartum, and infant wellness. My passion for supporting moms and babies began more than a decade ago, but nothing made me more committed to helping moms and babies thrive than going through my own pregnancy and postpartum journey.

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