Classic Bosnian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls – Sarma

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These classic Bosnian stuffed cabbage rolls aka sarma have a piquant flavor that will delight you! The combination of smoked meat and tangy pickled cabbage leaves filled with ground beef, rice, caramelized onions, and spices is irresistible!

 

Make sure to check out the vegan version below.

 

P I N  THIS RECIPE FOR LATER!

Classic Bosnian Sarma - Stuffed Cabbage Rolls - with text

 

Traditionally, stuffed cabbage rolls take a special place on the celebratory table. Graduations, engagements, weddings, army enlistment parties, Namesake Days, Christmas, and New Year – we celebrate everything with sarma!

 

A little background on classic Bosnian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

 

Sarma is in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire from the Middle East to Southeastern Europe. It’s a popular dish in almost all Balkan countries with slight variations.

 

The word sarma derives from the Turkish phrase sarmak, which means to wrap, from a family of dolma dishes (dolmak – to fill).

 

Three quick ways to homemade pickled cabbage:

 

*If your stores don’t offer pickled whole heads, look for jarred pickled leaves or make your own with one of these three quick pickling methods:

 

1. How to pickle an entire cabbage head in 5 days:

 

  • Discard the large, damaged outer leaves from the head. Cut out the core of the cabbage with a sharp knife.
  • Place it in a deep pot, core side up. Fill the core hole with 1/4 cup salt (it’s OK if it spills over) and add a slice of bread. Add enough boiling water to cover the whole head.
  • Cover and leave at room temperature (65F-71F) until the cabbage is fermented, for a maximum of five days.

 

2. How to pickle a cabbage head in 1-2 days:

 

  • Discard the large, damaged outer leaves from the head. Cut out the core of the cabbage with a sharp knife.
  • Pour 1/4 cup distilled vinegar into the hole, add a tablespoon of salt, and shake the head so that the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  • Put the prepared vegetable in a large freezer bag (a couple of grocery bags will work too, tightly closed) and freeze for 24-48 hours. Defrost at room temperature.

 

3. How to pickle a whole cabbage head in less than 1 hour:

 

  • Fill half of a large stockpot with water; add 2 cups vinegar, 1/2 cup of salt, and bring to a boil.
  • Discard the large, damaged outer leaves from the head. Cut out the core of the cabbage with a sharp knife.
  • Carefully immerse the fresh cabbage head into the boiling water and let it cook for about 20 minutes or until leaves are pliable.
  • Alternatively, after three minutes, gently peel off softened leaves with a pair of tongs and transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover the pot and continue cooking the vegetable for another three minutes. Remove the leaves that are softened and transfer to a bowl. Repeat until you have 12-15 leaves.

Note: You will also need one (32 oz.) jar of sauerkraut, rinsed and drained. See the recipe box for steps. 

 

Easy to make Bosnian-style cabbage rolls with smoked meat is perfect for the holidays

 

 

Frequent questions about Bosnian stuffed rolls:

 

1. WHAT DOES PICKLED CABBAGE TASTE LIKE?

 

Have you ever tried sauerkraut? Pickled cabbage tastes exactly the same. The only difference is visual: sauerkraut is shredded and then pickled, while we like to pickle whole heads and then shred it (thinly slice) when necessary.

 

We use the leaves to make these rolls but we also slice it for other recipes with sauerkraut and for salad. Try adding a tablespoon of oil and freshly ground black pepper to jarred or bagged sauerkraut. It makes the best salad to hearty dishes like bean soup.

 

Besides, it’s good for your gut. You should eat something fermented every day! I digress. 

 

2. CAN I MAKE SARMA AHEAD?

 

Definitely! I highly recommend it because it tastes even better the next day.

 

3. CAN YOU FREEZE STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS?

 

Yes, this dish freezes well. Place the rolls in an airtight freezer container or bags and freeze for up to 6 months.

 

To reheat, defrost and place the rolls in a pot; warm through over medium heat. You can also heat individual rolls in a microwave.

 

4. WHAT TO SERVE WITH STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS?

 

This classic Bosnian dish is great along with Bosnian-style mashed potatoes, or whole boiled potatoes, and crusty bread. Try them with a dollop of sour cream too!

 

Savory meat with rice and spices inside the pickled cabbage leaves.

 

What’s in this classic Bosnian dish?

 

Vegetable – Pickled Cabbage (store-bought or homemade*)

Protein – Ground beef and smoked meat of choice

Filler – Rice

Aromatics: Onion, garlic, and tomato paste

Spices: Paprika, nutmeg, and black pepper

Herbs: Bay leaves and parsley

Seasoning: Vegeta or salt

Binder: Flour

Fat: Oil

Liquid: Water

 

Ingredients for the Bosnian classic stuffed cabbage rolls

 

How do I make Bosnian sarma?

 

*Details and the printable recipe are available at the bottom of this post.

 

  1. Prep the cabbage leaves – Separate the leaves and remove the tough middle rib (vein).
  2. Make the filling – Mix the sautéed onions with ground beef, rice, spices, and herbs.
  3. Assemble the rolls – Place filling onto the cabbage leaf and roll up like a burrito (or see GIF for the alternate method); layer tightly into a large pot. Add pieces of smoked meat, cover with water, and cook for an hour.
  4. Make the roux (optional) – Heat the oil in a pan; add flour. Stir over low heat until golden. Mix in the tomato paste and pour over the rolls. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Enjoy!

 

 

Step by step photos on how to make Bosnian sarma.

 

Roll them like a burrito or try this tuck-in method: fold one side to the center, roll and tuck in the other side. 

 

GIF on how to roll stuffed cabbage leaves

 

Pro Tips/Recipe Notes:

 

Tips for making the perfect stuffed cabbage rolls:

 

  • For homemade pickling, it is imperative which cabbage to choose. It should not be with large hard veins and leathery leaves.
  • Only separate those leaves that are large enough to be wrapped in rolls.
  • When making rolls, there should be no exposed meat peaking through the leaf. If there is, remove some of the fillings or wrap another, smaller leaf around it.
  • Substitute rice with barley. I almost always do as it makes the filling firmer. If you overcook the rice, the mixture will be mushy.
  • To the meat mixture, add 1/4 cup finely diced bacon or smoked meat. You won’t regret it!
  • If your leaves are too big (or if you want bite-sized rolls), cut them in half along each side of the rib, removing the rib completely.
  • Finishing the rolls with a light roux is not mandatory, but it adds silkiness to the sauce. You can also add 1 cup tomato sauce to the last 30 minutes of cooking instead.
  • Bake the cabbage rolls in the oven if you prefer: place them in a casserole dish, tuck the smoked meat in between, cover, and simmer on 350F for 2-3 hours.

 

If you like these Bosnian stuffed cabbage rolls, you might also like Palestinian stuffed savoy cabbage rolls.

 

White plate on the black background with sarma and bread rolls.

 

These classic Bosnian stuffed cabbage rolls have a piquant flavor that will delight you! Perfect dish for the #holidays! #sarma #stuffedcabbagerolls #dinner #bosnianClick to Tweet

 

Can I make stuffed cabbage rolls vegan?

 

Yes. I have played with the filling and came up with this recipe that was very fulfilling. 

You will need:

 

  • 1 head of pickled cabbage, about 12 leaves (*if not available, cook one medium head of fresh vegetable in salted water with a cup of vinegar until soft)
  • 1 jar of sauerkraut
  • 2-3 bay leaves

 

Filling:

  • 2 cups cooked brown or green lentils
  • 2tablespoon olive oil 
  • 2 cups yellow onion chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 1/2 cup crimini mushrooms chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley chopped
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon smoked salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup uncooked rice

 

Roux (optional):

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

 

How to make vegan sarma:

 

  1. To cook dry lentils (skip this step if using canned lentils): Cook 1 cup dry lentils on the stovetop, using 3 cups water. Be sure to use a large enough saucepan as the lentils will double or triple in size. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat and simmer until they are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain if needed and measure out 2 cups cooked lentils for the recipe.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the onion, garlic, and crimini mushrooms. Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet on medium heat; add chopped veggies to the pan and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Once vegetables are soft and lentils are cooked, add to the food processor along with oatmeal, fresh parsley, paprika, and salt + pepper.  Pulse ingredients until combined. Use a spatula to scrape down sides as needed. You’ll want the mixture to be well-combined.
  4. With a knife, remove the thickest part of the rib (stem) of the cabbage leaves. Spoon the lentil mixture onto the leaves and roll up into sarma.
  5. Chop the remaining leaves and place some on the bottom of a large pot (*if making with fresh, use half of the jarred sauerkraut).
  6. Layer leaves tightly into the top, cover with remaining chopped cabbage or sauerkraut, and add bay leaves. Add enough water to cover the rolls and bring them to a boil. Cover, lower the heat and gently simmer for 20-30 minutes (do not let it boil rapidly or the rolls will fall apart).

 

Make a light roux (optional):

 

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet. Add 1 tablespoon flour and stir until golden in color (do not let it burn). Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, mix and pour over sarma in the pot. Add more water if necessary, cover and simmer for another 15 minutes.

________

 

If you make sarma, be sure to leave a comment and or give this recipe a rating!

 

I love to hear from you and I always respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you are…

 

MAKING THIS RECIPE OR OTHERS?

Don’t forget to post a photo on my Facebook page, share it on Instagram, or save it to Pinterest with the tag #ALLTHATSJAS.

 

I can’t wait to see your spin on it! Scrolling through the photos of recipes you tried is my favorite!
 

NOTE: For your shopping convenience, this post contains affiliate links.

 

ESSENTIALS

for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls


 
 

Other classic Bosnian recipes to try:

 

POTATO-STUFFED ROASTED BELL PEPPERS

BOSNIAN BEY’S SOUP

OKRA STEW

STUFFED ONIONS – SOGANI

 

 

Three delicious sarmas on a white plate

 


White plate on the black background with sarma and bread rolls.
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Classic Bosnian Sarma - Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

This classic Bosnian dish of stuffed cabbage rolls with a piquant flavor of pickled cabbage and smoked meat is perfect for holidays and special occasions.
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time3 hrs
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Servings: 12 rolls
Author: Jas

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium head of pickled cabbage*
  • 1 onion minced
  • 4 tablespoons oil divided
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Vegeta or salt
  • Water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 pound bacon smoked rib meat or any other smoked meat

For the roux (optional):

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

DIRECTIONS:

  • *See the post details on how to quickly pickle the whole cabbage head if the store-bought is not available.

For the cabbage leaves:

  • Separate each leaf from the pickled cabbage head gently, being careful not to tear, rinse and place in a large bowl
  • With a knife, remove the thickest part of the rib (stem); set leaves aside. Slice or chop small and damaged leaves.
  • Spread half of the chopped leaves (or half of the jarred sauerkraut if using homemade pickled cabbage #3) on the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven.

For the filling:

  • In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until translucent. Transfer onions with oil into a large bowl. Add a pound of ground beef, 1/2 cup rice, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon Vegeta or salt. Mix gently with clean hands until incorporated; set filling aside.

Assemble:

  • Place one leaf, rib side down, on the palm of your hand. Place about 2 tablespoons of meat mixture on the edge of each leaf, fold sides to the center and roll away from you (see the step-by-step photos and GIF in the post). Repeat until meat filling is gone.
  • Layer cabbage rolls seam-side down and tight together. Cut the smoked meat into pieces and place it on top of the rolls. Spread leftover chopped cabbage leaves (or sauerkraut) on the top. Add in bay leaves; fill with enough water to just cover the rolls. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 hour, adding more water if necessary.

For the light roux (optional):

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small skillet. Stir in 1 tablespoon flour. With a wooden spoon or a whisk, continue to stir flour over low heat until flour is golden in color. Do not burn it! Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste and mix well. Pour the roux over cabbage rolls and gently press down to dissolve in the juices. Do not stir rolls, as they will disintegrate. Cover the pot and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes.
  • Let cool slightly before serving.

RECIPE NOTES:

  • For homemade pickling, it is imperative which cabbage to choose. Cabbage should not be with large hard veins and leathery leaves.
  • Only separate those leaves that are large enough to be wrapped in rolls.
  • When making rolls, there should be no exposed meat peaking through the leaf. If there is, remove some of the fillings or wrap another, smaller leaf around it.
  • Substitute rice with barley. I almost always do as it makes the filling firmer. If you overcook the rice, the mixture will be mushy.
  • To the meat mixture, add 1/4 cup finely diced bacon or smoked meat. You won't regret it!
  • If your cabbage leaves are too big (or if you want bite-sized rolls), cut them in half along each side of the rib, removing the rib completely.
  • Finishing the rolls with a light roux is not mandatory, but it adds silkiness to the sauce. You can also add 1 cup tomato sauce to the last 30 minutes of cooking instead.
  • Bake the cabbage rolls in the oven if you prefer: place them in a casserole dish, tuck the smoked meat in between, cover, and simmer on 350F for 2-3 hours.
Tried this recipe?Snap a photo and mention @all_thats_jas or tag #allthatsjas on Instagram for a chance to be featured!

NUTRITIONS:

Nutrition Facts
Classic Bosnian Sarma - Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Amount Per Serving
Calories 212 Calories from Fat 126
% Daily Value*
Fat 14g22%
Saturated Fat 4g20%
Cholesterol 36mg12%
Sodium 257mg11%
Potassium 208mg6%
Carbohydrates 9g3%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 11g22%
Vitamin A 137IU3%
Vitamin C 2mg2%
Calcium 10mg1%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

 

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6 Comment

  1. Reply
    Aida
    December 25, 2019 at 7:21 am

    Hi darling! That’s great advice for pickling the whole head in 24-48 hours!!! I get the same question a lot, and from now on I know where to send people for answers. 🙂 Happy Holidays!

    1. Reply
      Jas
      December 25, 2019 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you so much, sweetie! Wishing you a wonderful holiday season as well! 😀

  2. Reply
    Ron
    December 18, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    Wow, I want to make this soon. We have a dish here called Kålpudding that’s not a roll, more like a cake. But, it doesn’t use pickled cabbage. I love kimchi and make it often, but I have never ever pickled a whole cabbage. I will be doing that soon. Jas, thanks for the great post. Have a wonderful holiday…

    1. Reply
      Jas
      December 19, 2019 at 9:04 pm

      I had to look up the Kålpudding recipe and I think I’d love it! Making that pretty soon, that’s for sure! It reminds me of whole stuffed savoy cabbage with a white sauce I once made in Germany. I need to make that again someday. Too many recipes, so little time! Glada Helgdagar 🙂

  3. Reply
    Jeff the Chef
    December 17, 2019 at 10:17 am

    What are fantastic post! I’m polish, and so this recipe of course reminds me of my national dish, Golumpki. But your recipe contains several differences from my typical approach, and I love every one of the differences! The idea of adding bacon sounds fantastic! I’ve never thought of that! Also, I’ve never used to pickled cabbage. What a great idea!

    1. Reply
      Jas
      December 17, 2019 at 4:58 pm

      Thank you so much, Jeff! There are some differences even from household to household, but we all use pickled cabbage. Hope you’ll give it a try! Thanks for stopping in and happy holidays! 😀

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