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Romanian stuffed cabbage rolls - A nation's favorite

Updated on August 30, 2017

Cabbage rolls - A nation's favorite - and not only

One of the dishes we are so proud of. The name is not translated as it should be, because it doesn't really have a name other than Romanian 'sarmalute' . So I decided to translate it as an overall of the dish, which is basically cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, seasoning and rice, everything rolled in the leaves.

If you've ever been to Romania or you know someone who has, they will all say that our food is delicious.

If you go to a market, you will be overwhelmed by all the produce on sale there. You can find anything and everything there, from freshly made soured cream or cheese or cottage cheese, to freshly harvested strawberries, or grapes, what the season will ask for.

The cabbage rolls have various ways of making it. If you love pickled, you can make them with pickled cabbage ( which are my favorite), or you can choose fresh cabbage leaves, or as we like to call it, sweet cabbage leaves. If you are vegetarian or you are fasting as is in our tradition before Christmas and you are not allowed to eat any type of meat, instead of meat, you can use mushrooms.

If you are in the category of cabbage haters ( as my husband is) you can use vine leaves instead of cabbage leaves.

Cook Time

Prep Time: 3 h

Total Time: 4 h


  • 1 kg minced pork (or pork and beef
  • equal amounts)
  • 110 g rice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 onions (medium size)
  • 2 tablespoons of pork lard
  • 100 g broth / tomato paste
  • sauerkraut ( pickled cabbage)
  • black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 1 bunch of thyme


  1. Choose the fat piece of pork meat (thigh, ribs, neck) and pass through a meat grinder once. Another option is to chop both pork and beef, in equal amounts and then grind it. Or you can buy minced beef and minced pork and just add them together. Mix the minced meat with cleaned and washed in several waters rice, finely diced onion, pepper, salt, finely chopped bay leaves, finely chopped dill and parsley and 100 ml of water. It's very important the addition of water in the filling.
  2. Choose cabbage leaves in which the meat can be packed easily. Place the cabbage leaf in your left hand, near the wrist place a small amount of the mixed ingredients and tightly roll the cabbage leaf with your right hand. Keep the cabbage roll in your left hand tight and with your right hand fingers take the edges of the cabbage and press them inwards, this is how you get the cabbage roll ready.
  3. Cook the stuffed cabbage in a large container, lined with slices of cabbage at the bottom, in which you put concentrically in layers of the shape of a snail the stuffed cabbage ( easier for you, in circles, all around). Over the last layer of cabbage put water ( to cover the cabbage rolls), tomato paste, some chopped dill and parsley, the bunch of thyme, two tablespoons of lard, optional you can add even thin slices of smoked bacon. After having given the first boil, the stuffed cabbage is left to simmer on low heat for 2 hours.
  4. HINT: Very important is the recipient used to cook the cabbage. For the most tasty cabbage rolls, boil the stuffed cabbage in a clay pot, crock pot or ceramic pot. Alternatively, you can use a normal pot, but in that case, cover the pot with a plate that is smaller than the circumference of the pot. In other words, you don't need to cover the pot, you need to cover the stuffed cabbage.
Cast your vote for 1. Pickled stuffed cabbage rolls

Serve the stuffed cabbage with a side of semolina and soured cream on top

Serve the stuffed cabbage with a side of semolina and soured cream on top
Serve the stuffed cabbage with a side of semolina and soured cream on top
Sweet stuffed cabbage
Sweet stuffed cabbage

2. Stuffed cabbage rolls made with sweet cabbage

The ingredients are all the same, except for the cabbage. Instead of pickled cabbage you use sweet cabbage or fresh cabbage, as you wish to call it.

And the procedure with the fresh cabbage it's a bit tricky, because if you boil the cabbage leaves for too long, you won't be able to stuff the cabbage without the leaves breaking. If you don't boil the cabbage leaves enough, you won't be able to roll it.

Here is the technique :

Choose the cabbage with thin leaves, not too stuffed. Remove the cob and place the cabbage in a pot of boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Remove with a fork and unfold all those softened leaves and place the remaining leaves back in the water. Repeat the same technique until the other leaves are softened as well.

Be careful not to scald the leaves to much, they will be too soft and will break.

Carry on to stuff the leaves in the same way as the recipe above.

stuffed vine leaves
stuffed vine leaves

3. Stuffed vine leaves rolls

Even with this recipe, the technique and ingredients are all the same.

All you need to do is to replace the cabbage leaves with vine leaves. A delicious alternative.

Don't get panicked if the rolls will be smaller than the ones with cabbage. It's normal, because the vine leaves are different and they roll different, so even if the vine leave is large, after rolling it, you will realize they will become small.

Some people might say, this is a Turkish recipe, but it definitely tastes a whole lot different that Turkish stuffed leaves.

4. Vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls

1-2 sauerkraut or sweet cabbage(depending on the size of the cabbage ), 500 g of fresh mushrooms, 200 ml rice - washed and dried, 1 small celery (root), 2 large carrots, 2 large onions, 150-ml tomato broth, 60-ml extra virgin olive oil, 1 bunch of dill, 1 bunch thyme, 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper

The directions are the same as in the first recipe, the difference is instead of meat you will use mushrooms, to make it vegetarian and the thyme goes on top of the stuffed rolls. The second version is to replace the rice as well. Instead of rice use pearl cereals or grits.




Which would you try? The rice version or the pearl cereals version?

I wish you all Merry Christmas and enjoy the holiday brunch!

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