Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sarma, Stuffed Cabagge Rolls

Sarma is the king when we are talking about Serbian food. Probably the most authentic dish in Serbian cuisine. Sure, you will find stuffed cabbage rolls in other Eastern European countries, but Serbian recipe calls for pickled cabbage leaves, not fresh ones, and, believe me, that makes a huge difference.

Serbs are so crazy about Sarma that they make it for any important event: weddings, slava (holiday dedicated to family's patron saint), Christmas, New Year's Eve, name it.

Serbian Christmas Feast: SMashed Potato, Sarma and Prebranac (Baked beans).

Fall and Winter are the seasons for making Sarma. This dish is too heavy for the Summer, plus it is hard to find pickled cabbage that time of the year. In Serbia, people pickle cabbage at home, starting in the early Fall, by putting whole cabbage heads in big barrels, adding only water and salt. Although I've never made it myself, I know it is not easy to make good pickled cabbage. One of the tricks is to keep cabbage heads tightly pressed by putting heavy weight on top of the barrel. Although we preserve cabbage mostly for use in Sarma, we also shred it to make healthy low-calorie winter salad, adding sweet paprika on top of it. It is very similar to sauerkraut and the taste is the same. Also, people drink the juice from barrel to cure hangover.

Around Spring time, as the weather warms up, if supplies have not been completely depleted, you will start to notice rather unpleasant smell from barrels with preserved cabbage. Pray that your neighbors, who keep cabbage barrel on their balcony, remove it soon, otherwise you are in trouble.

For good Sarma you need well preserved cabbage leaves, not too firm or soft, not damaged either. If you do not live in Serbia, you can buy it in some specialized ethnic stores with imported food. They are sold in big jars or plastic bags.

Pickled Cabbage Leaves in the Jar.

The most complicated part of this recipe is folding cabbage leaves into Sarma rolls. Pay attention to the steps on the pictures below. Also, although Sarma takes long to be cooked, do not overcook it. Rice in the filling should stay firm enough.

Serve the dish with mashed potatoes, and pair it with Merlot. 

You need:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5-6 slices of smoked bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic, finely chopped
500g (1 1/10 lb) ground beef
500g (1 1/10 lb) ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 ground black pepper
1 cup rice
2 large jars / packages pickled cabbage leaves
Water to cover

Smoked pork ribs, optional

Finishing sauce:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 tablespoon paprika


In a saucepan, cook oil and onion on medium heat for few minutes. Add beef, pork, salt and black pepper, mix everything together and keep stirring until meat is cooked medium well. Remove from the heat and add garlic and uncooked rice. Mix rice with the meat uniformly.

Now you are ready to fold rolls.

Lay cabbage leaf flat on the cutting board.

Trim down the central rib, so the leaf remains uniformly thick and soft. Make sure you don't puncture it.

Put about 2 tablespoons of meat-rice mixture on the leaf, side closer to you.

Roll the leaf outward. When completely rolled, use your index finger to push leaf sides in the middle of the roll. 

Finished roll should have shape of a cylinder.

Gently put roll in a big saucepan which bottom had been previously covered with few leaves (this is to protect rolls from being burnt at the bottom).

Repeat the process until you run out of ingredients and saucepan is filled with rolls.

Tuck in slices of bacon among rolls, this will give Sarma nice, smoky flavor. Gourmet option would be to add smoked pork ribs.

Cover rolls completely with water and if there are any leaves left, use them to cover the dish on the top. Simmer Sarma covered for about 90 minutes on low-medium heat.

When Sarma is done, pour over it the sauce that you made by lightly browning flour on oil on medium heat for a minute or so, adding paprika at the very end. The sauce will give thickness, color and extra flavor to the water in which the dish was cooked, so the liquid can be used when serving Sarma, as a gravy on top of rolls or mashed potatoes.


  1. Ivana, majstorski kao i uvjek. Ovo moram da pokazem svekrvi i ostalima Americans.

  2. Zanimljiv način slaganja, ja ih uvijek polegnem. Nikada mi ovo nije palo na pamet, genijalno.


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