As the Christmas season approached, our home in Romania would come alive with a sense of anticipation and excitement. The aroma of freshly baked goodies and traditional dishes would waft through the air, drawing us all into the heart of our home: the kitchen. But one dish held a special place in our hearts, a dish that brought generations together and filled our souls with warmth and nostalgia – Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls, lovingly known as “Sarmale.”

In the days leading up to Christmas, the matriarch of our family, my beloved grandmother, would take the helm in the kitchen. Her hands, weathered with the wisdom of years, would gently handle the fermented cabbage leaves, each leaf carrying the tangy essence of sauerkraut, awaiting its transformation into the culinary masterpiece we knew and loved.

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Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls Sarmale Romanian Delights

In a bustling dance of ingredients, she would combine the ground pork and beef, uncooked rice, finely chopped onions, and minced garlic, creating a filling that was a symphony of flavors. A generous sprinkle of paprika, salt, and pepper brought life to the mixture. As she worked, her stories flowed like a river, carrying with them the essence of Christmases long past, and the hope for those yet to come.

The fermented cabbage leaves, each brimming with the zesty character of sauerkraut, served as a vessel for the filling, carefully spooned into each one before being rolled into neat parcels. It was a sight to behold, a labor of love woven into every fold, capturing the spirit of the season.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, she crafted a tomato sauce, marrying diced tomatoes, tomato passata, tomato paste, vegetable oil, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. The sauce simmered, thickening with the promise of flavor.

Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls Sarmale Romanian Delights

The sauerkraut rolls found their place in the pot, nestled among a few sauerkraut leaves to prevent sticking, and then bathed in the rich tomato sauce. Covered and left to simmer, they underwent a magical transformation over the course of a couple of hours, as the sauerkraut leaves softened and the filling cooked to perfection.

As Christmas Eve drew near, the scent of sauerkraut rolls filled our home. Each plateful brought together the entire family, and we’d savor the melding of flavors and memories. It was a dish that tasted like tradition, like love, like home.

So, as we approach this Christmas, I invite you to create your own tradition with Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale). Share this heartwarming dish with your loved ones, and let the love and heritage of generations past infuse your holiday season with warmth and joy.

Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls Sarmale Romanian Delights

Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale)

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour



    For the Cabbage Rolls:

    • 1 large jar about 1.5 kg of fermented cabbage leaves(sauerkraut)
    • 500 g ground pork
    • 250 g ground beef
    • 1 cup uncooked rice
    • 1 medium onion finely chopped
    • 2 cloves of garlic minced
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 2 teaspoons paprika
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Fresh parsley finely chopped, for garnish

    For the Tomato Sauce:

    • 1 can 400g of diced tomatoes
    • 1 can 400g of tomato passata
    • 1/4 cup tomato paste
    • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 2-3 bay leaves
    • Salt and pepper to taste



      Prepare the Sauerkraut:

      • a. Drain the fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) and rinse it thoroughly under cold water to remove excess brine. Squeeze out any excess liquid.
      • b. In a large bowl, separate and fluff the sauerkraut to make it easier to work with.

      Prepare the Filling:

      • a. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, ground beef, uncooked rice, finely chopped onion, minced garlic, vegetable oil, paprika, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

      Assemble the Cabbage Rolls:

      • a. Take a sauerkraut leaf and place a portion of the filling in the center. Roll it up, tucking in the sides, to form a neat parcel. Repeat with the remaining sauerkraut leaves and filling.

      Prepare the Tomato Sauce:

      • a. In a separate pot, combine the diced tomatoes, tomato passata, tomato paste, vegetable oil, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Simmer over low heat for about 10-15 minutes to create a flavourful sauce.

      Cook the Cabbage Rolls:

      • a. Place a few sauerkraut leaves at the bottom of a large, deep pot to prevent the rolls from sticking. Arrange the sauerkraut rolls neatly in the pot.
      • b. Pour the tomato sauce over the sauerkraut rolls, covering them.
      • c. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for about 1.5 to 2 hours, until the sauerkraut leaves are tender and the filling is cooked through.

      Serve the Romanian Cabbage Rolls:

      • a. Carefully remove the sauerkraut rolls from the pot and arrange them on a serving platter.
      • b. Pour some of the tomato sauce from the pot over the rolls.
      • c. Garnish with finely chopped fresh parsley.
      • d. Serve the Romanian Cabbage Rolls hot, accompanied by sour cream if desired.


      These Traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) with sauerkraut offer a delightful combination of flavourful meat and rice, wrapped in tangy sauerkraut leaves and simmered in a rich tomato sauce. Enjoy this classic Romanian dish that’s a symbol of family gatherings and cherished traditions, prepared according to your grandmother’s recipe.