Hey, you know how food is all about connecting you with the people around you, their culture and traditions? Right, this is one of those except it’s going to connect your fist with someone’s face because you’ll get angry trying to make stuffed cabbage rolls properly. Yup, they’re that hard to make! You know what though? You can always eat the failed results – they’re going to taste just as good.

The history

The word sarma (plural: sarmale) comes from the Turkish verb sarmak, which means “to wrap” or “to roll”. Surprisingly, this is how you make cabbage rolls. You roll them. See? Roll is even in the name… I give up.

Traditionally, you’d make stuffed cabbage rolls for Christmas, Easter or a wedding. Basically, any event where a lot of people would get together. This makes sense as well since you’d want to make as many as possible in one sitting and then spend the rest of the year recovering from the work.

The recipe

Print Recipe
Sarmale
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Romanian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 5 hours
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 500 grams minced meat mixed pork and beef
  • 1 medium white onion diced
  • 50 grams uncooked rice
  • 400 grams peeled tomatoes canned or fresh
  • 1500 grams whole sour cabbage if you can't find a whole sour cabbage, you can also use a fresh one. Just be warned, the taste will differ a bit from the traditional dish.
  • 2 tbsp tomato concentrate
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • a bunch of dill
  • a bunch of parsley
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • thyme to taste
  • sour cream to serve
  • pickled hot peppers optional
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Romanian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 5 hours
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 500 grams minced meat mixed pork and beef
  • 1 medium white onion diced
  • 50 grams uncooked rice
  • 400 grams peeled tomatoes canned or fresh
  • 1500 grams whole sour cabbage if you can't find a whole sour cabbage, you can also use a fresh one. Just be warned, the taste will differ a bit from the traditional dish.
  • 2 tbsp tomato concentrate
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • a bunch of dill
  • a bunch of parsley
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • thyme to taste
  • sour cream to serve
  • pickled hot peppers optional

Instructions on how to make stuffed cabbage rolls (sarmale)

Got your electrolytes? Your massage pillow? You might need them.

Firstly, this step depends on whether you have sour cabbage or sweet cabbage:

  1. For the sour cabbage, all you need to do is gently separate the individual leaves and put them on a plate
  2. For the normal cabbage, you need to steam it in a pot of water. Like this: Boil enough water to cover the cabbage. Get your whole cabbage and dunk it into the boiling water for around 30 seconds. Remove it and peel only the first leaf. Repeat this process for each and every cabbage leaf until done.

Since we have this out of the way, let’s take a break and rela…wait, no, we just started. On to the filling. Dice the onion, dill, and parsley and add them in a bowl with the minced meat. Meanwhile, wash the rice and bring it to the party in the bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Then, get your hand in there (wash it before, obviously) and starting mixing everything together. Add half of the canned tomatoes and mix well. Let your creation sit for a while and turn your attention to the cabbage leaves.

When they lose the staring contest, start cutting away the hard parts – begin with the main stem. Once all these are gone don’t throw them away because you can use them to add flavor when baking. You basically need to end up with postcard-sized cabbage leaves, which you’ll then use to wrap the meat mixture. Take a handful of the mixture (something around 15g should be fine) and gently roll each and every single cabbage leaf. Gently – you can easily break them if you overstuff them.

Now starting: part 2. Yes, we need a part 2 for this.

Dice the leftover cabbage, put it in a bowl and add the rest of the tomatoes with around 2 tablespoons of tomato concentrate and the thyme. Dilute with 500ml of water.

By this time you should be cursing every single relative I have for convincing you to make this but don’t worry, you’re almost done. Grab a pot that’s safe for baking in, smear the oil on the inside and add half of the tomato / cabbage / thyme sauce.

On top of these arrange all of the stuffed cabbage rolls in a circle, adding layer over layer. It’s basically like building the Great Wall of China in a pot, but with meat and in a cylindrical shape. So it’s nothing like building the Great Wall of China. Anyway, when you’re done pour in the rest of the sauce.

Preheat your oven to 170°C (338°F), cover your pot and stick it in the oven for 5 hours!!! Reduce the heat to 150°C (302°F) after the first hour. Make sure to check how much liquid you have in the pot every hour. If you think it needs more, add more. Or burn your stuffed cabbage rolls. Up to you.

*ProTip: traditional, old-school clay pots work best for this but you can also use normal baking-resistant pots.

You’re done! When serving these, they work great with some polenta (here’s how to make it), sour cream and pickled hot peppers.

Listen to this while cooking.

Enjoy.