Romanian Christmas Sarmale (Stuffed Cabbage)

This Romanian Sarmale features fresh herbs, tomatoes, and sustainably sourced pork that is rolled in cabbage and baked to perfection.

Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture.png

While stuffed cabbage may not be a typical dish enjoyed by most Americans, it is a common meal that can found in many Eastern European homes. Sarmale is a type of stuffed cabbage that come from Romania and is made using sour cabbage, pork, a variety of spices, and tomato juice. The result is one of the most aromatic and flavorful meals one could ask for.

Sarmale is enjoyed all year round in Romania, but is especially popular during Christmas and on other holidays. Like I mentioned above, stuffed cabbage recipes can be found throughout all of Eastern Europe and in many other cultures like Greece, Italy, and other middle eastern countries which all have their own versions of stuffed cabbage, but instead typically will use grape leaves for rolling.

Before making this Sarmale I had never had stuffed cabbage before and honestly the thought of making it was pretty low on my list. I mean the words “stuffed cabbage” don’t really seem to evoke very much, but once I began making this recipe I instantly knew that it would become a new favorite of ours.

Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture
Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture

While the recipe for this Sarmale is pretty simple, the tricky part comes with rolling up the cabbage leaves. I know that with time this process will get easier, but just like learning how to roll spring rolls there definitely is a bit of a learning curve.

What I found to be the most helpful when making the Sarmale was to make sure that the cabbage leaves were softened before removing them and rolling. Allowing the cabbage to soak in hot water before hand allows the leaves to easily remove from the cabbage, and makes for much easier rolling. I also would recommend trying to find two small to medium size cabbages instead of one large one. The smaller cabbages again I found were easier to remove the leaves from and make for a more ideal size for rolling.

But when it comes to rolling up your Sarmale don’t worry about them being perfect. While you do want to try and get them as tight as possible to keep in all the flavors of the meat inside, the point here isn’t about how perfect they look — trust me even the imperfect rolls will still taste incredible.

Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture
Romanian Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage - The Well Essentials #glutenfree #sarmale #foodculture

Romanian Christmas Sarmale (stuffed cabbage)


  • 2 small sour cabbages

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 large onion (minced)

  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)

  • 1/4 cup uncooked rice

  • 1 lb ground pork

  • 12 ounces bacon (chopped)

  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)

  • 1/4 cup fresh dill (chopped)

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

  • 4 cups tomato juice


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

  • Fill a large pot with water and add the cabbage. Bring to boil for ~5 minutes or until the cabbage leaves have softened and can be easily removed.

  • Next, in a large skillet, heat the oil and add the onions and garlic. Cook until onions are soft. Next, add the rice and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

  • In a large bowl combine the ground pork, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, parsley, and dill. Next, add the onion, garlic, and rice mixture to the bowl and mix well with clean hands.

  • Remove the cabbage leaves and begin to fill each leaf with a few tablespoons of the meat mixture.

  • Roll the cabbage leaf by tucking in the sides and rolling from the bottom up.

  • Repeat until all the meat mixture has been used. If you have any remaining cabbage leafs you can chop them up and add them to the bottom of your cast iron pan or dutch oven.

  • Once all the cabbage has been rolled, place each roll in a cast iron pan or dutch oven. If necessary you can stack the rolls.

  • Next, add the chopped bacon between the cabbage rolls and then pour the tomato juice over the rolls. The juice should cover the cabbage rolls entirely so add additional water or tomato juice if needed.

  • Cover the cast iron pan or dutch oven and place in the oven to bake for 2 hours.

  • Serve hot immediately with sour cream on top.