Cabbage Rolls


This is a traditional Romanian dish, named "Sarmale" cooked in every household for Christmas. In Romania there is no Christmas without the smell of the cabbage rolls. The key ingredient is the pickled cabbage. It takes up to two weeks to get a rapid pickled cabbage for fast consumption or up to six weeks to get it slowly pickled for long term consumption. In Romania the time for harvesting the cabbage is the end of October when it gets pickled in large quantities, in wooden barrels. By Christmas it is just ready for the festive cooking. I bought the pickled cabbage from my international food store, happy to find it. The recipe calls for ground meat, you can use pork or beef or combination of beef and pork. Traditionally, Romanians use ground pork. Here I used half pork and half beef.
Prepared and Photographed by:
Cuisine: Family Recipe
Serves: 8
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • ½ lb ground beef
  • ½ lb ground pork
  • ½ cup of risotto rice
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1+1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of salt 1 +1 tsp of pepper
  • 1 +1 tsp of summer savory or thyme
  • 2 +2 tbsp of ketchup
  • 1 whole pickled cabbage
  • 1 small can of tomato paste ( ½ cup)
  1. Sauté the onions in 1 tbsp of olive oil
  2. Place the meat, rice, water, sautéed onions, salt, pepper, summer savory (1 tsp), ketchup (2 tbsp) in a large bowl and mix well, allowing the meat to absorb the flavors. The water is needed so the rice will absorb it during the cooking process. If no water is added, the mixture meat might become hard as the rice will absorb the existing water during the cooking process.
  3. Take as many leaves as you can off the cabbage until you reach the core and can no longer take leaves off.
  4. In a food processor shred the cabbage core, divide in two parts
  5. In a medium Dutch oven pour on tbsp of olive oil and place and place one layer of shredded cabbage. Sprinkle the layer with summer savory (or thyme), pepper and lay some ketchup
  6. Prepare the cabbage rolls as follows: take a small quality of meat mixture and place it on a cabbage leaf. Roll the leaf such a way that it will contain the meat inside. Roll as many leafs as you have.
  7. Place the rolls in the Dutch oven, on top of the shredded cabbage layer. Sprinkle the rolls with summer savory (or thyme), pepper and lay some ketchup.
  8. Place the remaining shredded cabbage on top of the rolls, sprinkle the layer with summer savory (or thyme), pepper and lay some ketchup.
  9. Dissolve the tomato paste in one can of water and pour it over the rolls. Fill the pan with water just to reach the top of the rolls.
  10. Cook it for about 2 hours on low heat.
  11. Serve it with sour cream, Serrano pepper and corn meal. Enjoy!

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One comment

  • Nelu

    The cabbage rolls have a better taste if you put at the bottom of the pot some slices of uncooked dried and smoked bacon.