Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls– a 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.
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 :
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.
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.
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:
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.
Mix everything together and make sure all the spices are incorporated properly. Set the bowl with the meat aside.
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.
Follow the steps in the pictures:
Wrap the meat inside the cabbage leaf.
You will need to close the edges of the leaf so the meat doesn’t come out when it cooks.
Something like this:
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.
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.
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.
Also, add tomato paste or tomato juice and water to cover them.
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.
Aren’t they pretty?
They get better after a day or two if you have leftovers. Enjoy!
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.
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)
Romanian Stuffed Peppers (With Instant Pot Instructions)
Authentic Romanian Sauerkraut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
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.
- 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
- Make the filling:
- In a large bowl place together ground meat, diced onions, rice, thyme, ground pepper and marjoram. Mix everything really well.
- Set aside.
- Make the cabbage rolls:
- 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.
- Grab a cabbage leaf and place 1 tablespoon of meat on it. Wrap the meat inside the cabbage leaf to obtain a neat roll.
- Place shredded cabbage on the bottom of the pot, then start adding the rolls.
- Optional, you can add a layer of bacon over each layer of rolls.
- Fill up the pot with cabbage rolls, then mix together the tomato juice and the paste and pour it over the rolls.
- Add water to cover the rolls.
- The final layer should be shredded cabbage.(use left over cabbage)
- Sprinkle more bacon, thyme and bay leaves and cover with a lid.
- Bake in the oven at 350F for about 2 hours.
- 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.
- Serve them warm with a dollop of sour cream on top, fresh bread or polenta and hot peppers.
- 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".
- 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.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 290Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 67mgSodium: 539mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 23g
Friday 24th of February 2023
This is basically the same as the cabbage rolls that my Mom made and I make except not only do we use pickled cabbage but also we layer sauerkraut in between the layers of of cabbage rolls. I am 100% Hungarian!
Saturday 22nd of January 2022
My Grandparents on both sides are Romanian asks that never put ask those spices in the filing and putting anything tomatoes was forbidden. Smotted butt is used and washed and unwashed saurkraut is layered between the cabbages rolls. You can also eliminate boiling water by putting the cabbage heads in the microwave.. No boiling water to spill.
The Bossy Kitchen
Monday 24th of January 2022
Jan, thank you for your comment. This is my family recipe, and we add spices to the filling. We also add tomatoes in different forms. There are many recipes out there, and they differ from one region of Romania to another. In Transylvania, for example, they do not use tomato paste, but in other areas, they do. You also have to remember that rural Romania still doesn't use microwaves. In the summer, when they make stuffed cabbage rolls with fresh cabbage, boiling or steaming the cabbage is the way to do it. In the winter, this recipe is made traditionally with sauerkraut that most families preserve in barrels during the fall. Using a microwave to steam the cabbage is a great tip, though.
Friday 3rd of December 2021
Is the rice and pork cooked before you stuff the leaves or raw?
The Bossy Kitchen
Friday 3rd of December 2021
The rice and pork are not cooked before, the instructions inside the article and also inside the recipe card will tell you step by step how to make the mixture.
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.
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!