Croatian / Serbian / Balkan

Sarma (Stuffed Cabbage)

Bozena’s Story

Sarma is a traditional, heavy dish that is usually served for special occasions. This recipe makes enough for a crowd and, since they taste even better the next day and the day after, you’ll have tasty leftovers!


Makes 15 cabbage rolls

2 tablespoons fat or oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
600g dried meat or bacon, chopped
3 gloves garlic
120g rice (longrain or any other type), uncooked
500-600g minced beef
1 egg
1 large head of sour cabbage (sauerkraut)*, root trimmed, leaves separated
1 large bay leaf
2 teaspoons paprika powder
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons tomato paste


1) Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat, and fry the onion and 100g of the dried meat (or bacon). Add the garlic, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add rice, minced beef and egg. Stir the mixture well.

2) Place a cabbage leaf on your palm and place approximately a heaped tablespoon of the meat mixture in the middle of the leaf. Fold up the bottom of the leaf (where the root is), then fold in the right side. The remaining left side of the cabbage needs to be tucked into the roll carefully.

3) Place 2-3 pickled cabbage leaves on the bottom of a large pot. Add the rolls and then the remaining dried meat or bacon, ensuring it covers the cabbage rolls.

4) Finally, add the bay leaf, paprika and peppercorns and cover the rolls with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the sarma for at least 2-3 hours. Add a small amount of water when needed to offset any evaporation.

5) Add tomato paste and gently shake the pan. Serve with mash potatoes and a spoon of sour cream.

* Whole heads of sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) can be found in select delis and some supermarkets. It is very important to use good-quality, medium-sized sauerkraut that is not too sour or salty.

Sarma image by Gunes Akdogan.

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