Skip to Content

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rollsa great recipe for feeding a crowd, take it to potlucks and family reunions. This recipe will walk you step by step on how to make these delicious stuffed cabbage rolls in three ways: traditional, crockpot, and also Instant Pot.

Stuffed cabbage rolls on black bowl on table1

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:

I am ashamed for taking such a long time to post this recipe on my blog. If I want to show you my traditions and heritage through food, this recipe is a must!

As we are going through holidays and this recipe is the most traditional one for Christmas and New Year in Romania, I had to share it with you!

Many countries eat stuffed cabbage rolls, but I think it is more prominent in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. We make them with fresh cabbage in the summer or with pickled cabbage (sauerkraut) in the winter.

This recipe is an authentic traditional Romanian one and it is truly the way my grandma and my mom used to make it.

There are different versions around Romania, due to the fact that each region of the country has a different cuisine or different influences.

Romanians eat more pork than beef, and the traditional stuffed cabbage rolls are made with ground pork, especially in the winter and around Christmas time.

However, you can also make them only with ground beef or a mixture of 50-50 pork and beef.

They become tastier after a few days, for some reason, so the majority of Romanians when cooking them, will always make a million of them, so they can enjoy leftovers. 🙂

My grandmother, for example, took pride in telling us how many cabbage rolls she made, and there were never less than a hundred!

The Romanian stuffed cabbage rolls or “sarmale” are a must at any important event. There is no Romanian Christmas without “Sarmale” and you will notice that any Romanian living abroad will tell you about them.

We tend to keep ourselves rooted in our own culture through food, so cabbage rolls are very important to us. We make them for weddings, funerals, and any other important occasions.

We love them and we will make them for friends and family when we live abroad. It is our heritage and tradition and we are very proud of it!

This recipe is made with cabbage that was preserved in salt and water or sauerkraut. I grew up with preserved, pickled cabbage in winter. It was an important food item on the table together with other vegetables my parents canned in the summer.

The food was scarce and if you did not can in the summer, you did not have anything to eat in the winter.

For the ones living in the US, you can find pickled cabbage either in jars, like this one :

cabbage leaves in a jar

or like this one here. Personally, I use what I can find around. I know that a lot of stores carry pickled whole cabbage, otherwise, ordering online is another option.

Local stores, like Polish, Ukrainian, or any other Eastern European ethnic stores will carry jars of sauerkraut.

half sauerkraut cabbage

This being said, let’s try to make the cabbage rolls.

How to make Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:

If you use the jars with cabbage leaves, then your work is easier, as the leaves are usually prepared for stuffing.

If you buy a whole sauerkraut cabbage, then it takes a few minutes to get it ready for the meat.

Cut the cabbage in half and separate the leaves from the core. You will need to prepare the leaves before you do anything.

cabbage leaves getting ready for filling

It will save time when you start stuffing and rolling the cabbage leaves. Remove the thick part that connects the leaf to the cabbage core. Something like this:

cabbage leaf with the middle vein removed

This step makes the leaves more pliable.  When you are done with this step, set them aside.

Do not throw away the parts you removed from the leaves. You can slice them thinly and add them in between the cabbage rolls.

Also, you can use them on the bottom of the pot before you start adding the cabbage rolls. This way, the rolls will not stick to the pot.

What kind of rice is good for this recipe? Do you need to cook it before?

People asked me what kind of rice they should use. There are different recipes out there that tell you to use long grain rice, like Basmati rice, while others recommend short-grain rice like Arborio.

When I was growing up, the only type of rice available was the basic white rice, which was a long grain.

My advice is to use the regular rice you have in the house and not fuss about it. If you have brown rice or Arborio rice and nothing else, use that. 

Also, there are recipes out there that require the rice and onions to be cooked before adding to the meat.

While I don’t have anything against this method, I personally don’t cook the meat and the rice before. I add the rice to the mixture as it is and cook the rolls until they are done.

In the pot, when the cabbage rolls are cooking, the rice and meat will cook together, so there is no need to cook the rice before.

I personally like to see the rice inside the cabbage rolls, and if you cook the rice before, then you cook it again in the rolls, it will disintegrate.

This is my humble opinion that evidently can be debated, as everyone makes it differently.

Prepare the filling:

The Romanian cabbage rolls have a combination of meat, rice, onion, and spices inside, so you will need rice, onion, pepper, thyme, marjoram, and some bay leaves.

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- ingredients put together for the filling to make cabbage rolls(ground meat, rice, spices, onion

Mix everything together and make sure all the spices are incorporated properly. Set the bowl with the meat aside.

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- pieces of smoked bacon in a white jar, ground meat with rice and spices in the background, a jar of cabbage leaves behind the bacon.

How To Make Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:

Lay a cabbage leaf on the table or on your hand and place a small amount of meat mixture on one side of the leaf.

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- hand showing how the cabbage leaf should look like in order to fill it with meat

Follow the steps in the pictures:

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- how to fill and roll the cabbage leaf

Wrap the meat inside the cabbage leaf.

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- how to fill and roll the cabbage leaf

You will need to close the edges of the leaf so the meat doesn’t come out when it cooks.

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- how to fill and roll the cabbage leaf

Something like this:

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- how to fill and roll the cabbage leaf

Slice some cabbage and spread it on the bottom of the pot. The cabbage will create a cushion and keep the rolls from sticking to the bottom. 

Stuffed cabbage rolls in the pot with bacon1

Optional you can add some bacon in between the rolls for flavor, but this is only your choice. I love the smoked-flavored bacon in between.

The bacon makes these stuffed cabbage rolls really special and who doesn’t love bacon, anyway?

Start adding the cabbage rolls one by one.

Stuffed cabbage rolls in the pot1

Continue rolling until you finish the meat and the cabbage leaves. If you have leftover cabbage leaves, just slice them into thin pieces and cover the stuffed cabbage rolls with them.

At this point, add more pieces of uncooked bacon(optional) and bay leaves.

Stuffed cabbage rolls in the pot ready for baking1

Also, add tomato paste or tomato juice and water to cover them.

Stuffed cabbage rolls with tomato paste on top ready for baking1

I added some more thyme and made sure they have enough water to simmer in the pot for about 2 hours.

I covered the pot with the lid and put it in the oven at 375 F.

I removed the lid and allowed the stuffed cabbage rolls to bake to get a golden crust, for another 30-45 minutes.

If you notice the water evaporated and there is no liquid left, add a little bit more water but make sure to not fill up the pot again.

Serve the stuffed cabbage rolls warm with polenta or bread, a dollop of sour cream on top, and optional hot peppers.

Stuffed cabbage rolls on black bowl11

Aren’t they pretty?

They get better after a day or two if you have leftovers. Enjoy!

Stuffed cabbage rolls on black bowl1

Can I make these stuffed cabbage rolls with fresh cabbage?

If you use fresh cabbage, place a big pot with salty water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, separate the cabbage leaves from the core, trying to not damage them.

Place the leaves in the boiling water for 2 minutes, remove and drain them. Now they are pliable and easy to use. Make sure you remove the core from each leaf, as I explained in the post.

Follow the rest of the recipe.

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- a great recipe for feeding a crowd, take it to potlucks and family reunions.

Can I make stuffed cabbage rolls in the crockpot?

Yes, this recipe is one of the wonderful recipes out there that are slow-cooked, therefore a crockpot is a wonderful tool to use.

Follow the same method of making the rolls, but cook them in the crockpot on “Low” from 6-8 hours, or 4-5 hours on “high”.

I would still put them in the oven for another hour, at least, uncovered, to bake them on top and give them a golden brown finish.

Can I make stuffed cabbage rolls in an Instant Pot?

Yes, follow the recipe as I describe it. Close the pot and press the “Pressure Cook”manual button setting the time for about 18-20 minutes. Do a natural pressure release. 

Some other Romanian recipes to love:

Romanian Beef Salad (Salata de Boeuf)

Cabbage with Pork

Romanian Stuffed Peppers (With Instant Pot Instructions)

Lemon Ricotta Cheese Cake

Easy Potato And Meat Stew

Yield: 10 servings

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Stuffed cabbage rolls on black bowl square photo1

Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls- a great recipe for feeding a crowd, take it to potlucks and family reunions. The recipe explains the traditional way of making the cabbage rolls and also the crockpot and the Instant Pot versions.

Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground meat(could be pork beef or a 50/50 mixture), 500 g
  • 1 large onion chopped finely
  • 1 cup rice
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 pickled cabbage or 1 big jar of cabbage leaves 
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • Optional: 1/2 pound bacon chopped

Instructions

  1. Make the filling:
  2. In a large bowl place together ground meat, diced onions, rice, thyme, ground pepper and marjoram. Mix everything really well.
  3. Set aside.
  4. Make the cabbage rolls:
  5. Prepare the cabbage leaves by removing the core and the thickest part of each leaf. If the leaves are too big cut them in half.
  6. Grab a cabbage leaf and place 1 tablespoon of meat on it. Wrap the meat inside the cabbage leaf to obtain a neat roll.
  7. Place shredded cabbage on the bottom of the pot, then start adding the rolls.
  8. Optional, you can add a layer of bacon over each layer of rolls.
  9. Fill up the pot with cabbage rolls, then mix together the tomato juice and the paste and pour it over the rolls.
  10. Add water to cover the rolls.
  11. The final layer should be shredded cabbage.(use left over cabbage)
  12. Sprinkle more bacon, thyme and bay leaves and cover with a lid.
  13. Bake in the oven at 350F for about 2 hours.
  14. Remove the lid and allow the cabbage rolls to bake for another 30-45 minutes. You might notice the water evaporated, so you can add a little bit more, but do not fill up the pot again.
  15. Serve them warm with a dollop of sour cream on top, fresh bread or polenta and hot peppers.
  16. Crockpot: Follow the same method of making the rolls, but cook them in the crockpot on "Low" from 6-8 hours, or 4-5 hours on "high".
  17. Instant Pot: Follow the recipe as I describe it. Close the pot and press the "Pressure Cook"manual button setting the time for about 18-20 minutes. Do a natural pressure release. 

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 290Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 67mgSodium: 539mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 23g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Note: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”

Peter Shaun Kavanaugh

Friday 1st of October 2021

The cabbage leaves can easily (still takes time) by coring the fresh cabbage head and then submerging in a pot of boiling water. As the outer leaves cook and soften simply peel them off with tongs....this way you have soft leaves peeling off.

Deb

Sunday 21st of February 2021

Thank you so much for all the information you included, both the bit of history and all the ways you can cook them. I appreciate that very much! My grandma was Romanian and made the best cabbage rolls ever. I think that is where my love of sauerkraut came from. I’m going to give your recipe a whirl and I’m sure it’s going to be great! Thanks again!

The Bossy Kitchen

Monday 22nd of February 2021

I hope you love them as much as we do! You are very welcome!

Cristina

Saturday 2nd of January 2021

I used a 50-50 beef and pork mix, and store bought pickled cabbage leafes. I found them a little too salty and sour for my taste and put them in water for 1/2 hour to get rid of the excess salt, then drained them and followed the recipe. Excellent rolls, we had them for Christmas and lots of leftovers for the New Year´s Eve. Thank you Gabriela!

The Bossy Kitchen

Saturday 2nd of January 2021

Hi Cristina, Thank you so much for your comment. I used 50-50 beef and pork mix as well this year and I loved the cabbage rolls. We finished them before the New Year's Eve, because they were that good! It is indeed a good recipe. Thank you again and Happy New Year to you!

Cherry

Tuesday 18th of February 2020

A great recipe, easy to follow. I plan to make a very large batch tomorrow. Can the sarmale be frozen after cooking?

The Bossy Kitchen

Tuesday 18th of February 2020

Yes, you can freeze them.

Arlene Slobecheski

Monday 17th of June 2019

I love finding this recipe and your website. I am 72 yrs old and have just found out that I am half Romanian/Ukrainian. So I am trying to learn what I can about these countries and cooking is a great way to start.

The Bossy Kitchen

Monday 17th of June 2019

Arlene, this is awesome! There are plenty of recipes to choose from on my blog. Search for Romanian recipes and you will find a bunch of them. Also, there are some recipes from Transylvania, if you think your ancestors are from that region. Happy you found my blog! Feel free to ask any questions if you need to and happy cooking!

Skip to Recipe