sarmale în foi de varză acră

Romanian Stuffed Sour Cabbage

In Romania, sarmales are a special treat for Christmas dinner. They are typically served with mămăligă (polenta). We make them in large batches because they taste even better the next day. They can also be frozen.


2 or 3 large heads of cabbage
1 lemon, juiced
4 onions, chopped
2 cups celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup of rice
2 lbs of ground pork
2 lbs of ground beef
1 Tablespoon of (sweet) paprika
4 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of pepper
32 oz. of sauerkraut (save the juice)
1lbs. of bacon, sliced
½ cup of water
1 Tablespoon of Vegeta*


Remove the core of the cabbage with a paring knife.

Add to a pot of boiling salted water the juice from 1 lemon. Immerse the heads of cabbage in the boiling water for a few minutes, peeling off each leaf with tongs as soon as it becomes pliable. Set the leaves aside.

In a skillet add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and sauté onion, celery, garlic and raw rice for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl add the sautéed mixture, ground pork, ground beef, paprika, salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix everything together.

To assemble the sarmales, remove the hard triangular rib from the base of each cabbage leaf with a small paring knife. Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of filling in an oval shape near the rib edge of each leaf. As you are starting to roll up toward the outer edge, fold the right side edge of the leaf towards the center. Continue rolling until your reach the top. Now you need to tuck the left side of the cabbage leaf into itself. Continue with this rolling method until you finish the meat mixture.

Line the bottom of a large roasting pan with a thin layer of chopped cabbage and sauerkraut. Place 3 or 4 strips of bacon across sauerkraut. Cover with a layer of stuffed cabbage placed side by side. Followed by another layer of sauerkraut, strips of bacon, and stuffed cabbage. End with bacon strips and sauerkraut covering the top of sarmales. Add any extra whole cabbage leafs on top to help keep moisture in.

Mix Vegeta in ½ cup water and stir to dissolve. Add Vegeta mixture, sauerkraut juice and enough water to almost cover all the layers of sarmales.

Cover the baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 3 hours.

*Vegeta is a gourmet seasoning and soup mix imported from Croatia.

Total baking time: 3 hours
Makes: about 35-40 sarmales

3 Responses to “sarmale în foi de varză acră”

  • Alex Vasilescu Says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Your sarmale recipe is very traditional and the way it should be. Mine has changed over the years, in part because of my Mom, who’s style of cooking has changed since she moved here. It became a lot lighter and a bit more health conscious. The main differences that I see between yours and mine are: I only use turkey meat (a lot leaner) I don’t use bacon, I don’t use Vegeta. I don’t know if you grew up in Romania, but I remember Vegeta being used a LOT there. I never used lemon juice either, and I use sour cabbage to roll the meat in (I buy these Bulgarian jars from a Middle Eastern shop). Besides that, the rest of ingredience are the same and the cooking time is similar. One more thing, I see you have tomatoes on top of the rolls, but you forgot to add it to the recipe. My Mom and I add a bit of tomato sauce or even pasta sauce while boiling the rolls. Don’t ask why, but we like it. I wish there was a way to send you some and compare. Maybe next time you and your family visit California I’ll make a batch and have you over for dinner. Also, thank you for offering to feature my website on your blog!!!! When you have a minute, take a look at this new website I’m about to launch: I would love to have some feed back from you, and if it is possible I would like to have it featured in your blog somehow. Have a great summer!!! Alex

  • Cristina Says:

    Dear Stephanie,
    It is wonderfull to see that Sarmale become international famous.
    My recipe is a little different, i use ground beef and ground turkey, onions, rice, salt, peper, dried dill and dried thyme for the stuffing.. The Romanians like pork, so they are making it from grounded pork meat
    The cabbage we are using in the winter time in Romania is pickeled from autumn,( in a large pot the cabbage is put to get sour with salt and water solution, dill, corn and quince and after few weeks becomes good for sarmale ).
    After we are stuffing the cabbage rolls, on the base of the pot we are putting dried dill tulpins and on it one or two cabbage leafs, because sarlmale has a long cooking time and this way they don’t get burned.
    In the round pot we are arranging each sarma very close one to each other, radial on the margins of the pot, so the middle of the pot remains empty. After one layer we are putting some tomate paste and again other layer of sarmale untill all are finished.
    In the space remained in the middle of the pot we are putting fine sliced cabbage and enough water mixed with tomato and paprika paste so the sarmale are boiling nicely.
    We are serving it with Mamaliga !

  • Michael P Says:

    Hello Ladies:

    Sarmale is my favored dish. My grandmother used to do it, my mother used to do it, my wife does it. As you can guess they are the main course on the table at my Christmas (did I say I am from Romania). Just reading Stephanie’s recipe my mouth is watering. Those are “sarmale”. As soon as you take the pork away, they become staffed cabbages. I tasted Ukrainians, Polish, even Americans. There is no comparison. Regarding the health concern, just be sure to have a glass with red wine near by. It is the only medicine you need (it takes the cholesterol away). So please ladies, if your staffed cabbage does not include pork, do not name it “sarmale”. It damages the reputation. Thanks for reading (and no hard feelings). Regards, Michael.