Cabbage rolls ‘sarmale’ stuffed with ground beef, veggies and rice

Cabbage rolls ‘sarmale’ stuffed with ground beef veggies and rice

When I intended to post this recipe Easter was going to be here. Easter has now gone and I finally managed to get this recipe up and live.  It’s life, busy, busy, busy bee 🐝 😊

Traditionally in my household these cabbage rolls or sarmale cannot be given a miss at these festive times but not only. I now make them whenever we fancy them.

Sarmale is a dish that I ate and enjoyed almost all my life since I was a tiny kid especially around festive holiday times when everyone was making them and the whole town was smelling yummy of these delicious cabbage rolls, especially at Easter and Christmas time. They are such a Romanian traditional dish that Prince Charles now greatly enjoys along with the traditional chicken soup apparently one of his top faves every time he’s over there.

Dishes like these cabbage rolls or sarmale as we call them or this sweet or savoury cheese pie or the filo cheese wraps are simply unmissable and so close to my heart.


My dearest and most beloved grandma used to make the best Easter 🐣 dishes ever, the amount of work she was putting in was absolutely unbelievable. Days and days of cooking.  There were generally a lot of family members visiting so she was making tonnes of food. I remember always saying to her that she could feed a whole hungry battalion and she was always responding that “the hungry battalion is on its way” 😊. She was such a great woman. I miss her terribly some days. ❤ I was never a special kid but she always made me feel so special. 😊

I’ve learned that Life is so precious and it is really important to cherish and show our love to the ones we love to the fullest and to the very maximum.

 … and more delicious memories …

I remember my mum or grandma boiling them for a minimum of 3-4 or up to 6 hours😯.  It was a little excruciating for me as a kid smelling these and having to wait for so long to have one. They had to stay hours and hours on the stove or in the oven at low heat.  My grandma used to sneak a couple out of the pot and give for me to do the ‘tasting’ and sometimes I was so hungry (you know how kids are always hungry) and I remember I was saying, well, I can’t really give you the verdict on how good they are unless I have a few more, one for every tooth please …. ha ha. What a fun times, childhood with its amazing times and delicious memories.

Cooking these delicious beauties…..

Oh well, coming back to those stuffed cabbage rolls, I make these a lot more lately especially since my family enjoy them a lot more than a few years back.

So, from being the highlight dish at festive times and holidays, these cabbage rolls have now become a regular one. They’re super healthy so why not?! Oh, and the smell in your kitchen…. incredible!😊

The truth is that as much as I loved them before I used to avoid making them due to the time they were actually taking to boil, yes, to boil, not to make 😅

That’s the tradition I know but times have changed. Before women were home just doing the cooking, cleaning and looking after kids, that was hard enough. Now….. don’t even get me started… we don’t stop, do we?! 🐝😅

Cooking time … a myth…or reality… a necessity? 

I really don’t want you to get me wrong here because yes, they are supposedly meant to be cooked slowly, so I was told but, do they really?! 🤔 Heck, not!! I have them on the table within an hour and that’s thanks to my instant pot or pressure cooker, wahtever you want to call it.

Well, seriously, I could never boil them for soo long for two reasons, well, three actually:

  1. They would put a heavy environmental carbon foot print with so many hours of gas burnt or electricity consumed and I am very conscientious when it comes to this – you know me by now- I totally dislike and avoid wasting! Anything! Wasting is bad, full stop. Besides…. it really is unnecessary – I have tested it so many times by now and it is no need for all that hours of cooking.
  2. All the veggies will get way, way and so overly cooked and I don’t like murdering all that goodness – I still want some nourishment left in there – yes please 😊
  3. Simply, I wouldn’t find that amount of time. We’re living at times when we don’t want to spend as much cooking and as much I do love cooking… I love quick yet delish dishes so this is when my instant pot comes really handy. It’s my kitchen treasure and that’s as much and as far as I can say!

The end… lets just get going …

Oh yes, I really enjoy making the stuffed cabbage rolls in my pressure cooker. Waw! They’re ready and cooked to perfection in no time. I always set my pressure cooker to 30 min and they’re ready and done with boiling in just under one hour. Of course you can choose slow cooking too but for me, for the reasons mentioned above, I do not. 😉

Let’s get rolling!

Cabbage rolls ‘sarmale’ stuffed with ground beef veggies and rice
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5 from 11 votes

Cabbage rolls ‘sarmale’ stuffed with ground beef veggies and rice

A meal in itself these cabbage rolls or sarmale - filled with mince meat of your choice, vegetables and rice go so well served with a dollop of creme fraiche and polenta or cornmeal. Absolutely delicious! Enjoy!
Course Main Course
Cuisine Eastern Europe, Ramona's Cuisine
Keyword cabbage rolls, sarmale
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 8 people
Author Ramona


  • 1 savoy cabbage head fresh or soured*
  • 300 g minced lean beef
  • 300 g minced pork
  • 200 g smoked bacon diced
  • 5-6 smoked pork ribs
  • 1 courgette
  • 1/2 small leek
  • 1 carrot medium
  • 2 onions medium
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 100 g rice rinsed
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes *
  • 1 chilli
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (optional)


  • I used sour cabbage just like I did, do the same, core it (if it still has the core) and place it in a big pot/dish in lukewarm water (3-4 l) ideally for at least 1 hour ahead since this is very salty so it needs some time to desalt.
    Don’t worry if you cannot leave it for so long - leave it the longest you can. Just open it nicely so that all leaves are individually loose in the water.  
    See recipe notes about the cabbage types*

  • I always prepare the vegetable and rice mixture immediately after resoving the cabbage as this needs some time to cool. So, peel and wash the carrot and just wash the courgette and then grate both on the bigger whole grater.
  • Finely chop the onions and the leek. Place them in a pan over medium heat, add some salt and soften with a dash of water or oil if you wish. I don’t use any oil since the meat has all that’s needed and plenty more to add to the dish overall but feel free to use if you wish. ☺ Cook for 3 minutes covered until onions become translucent.
  • Add the rice, cook for 1 min and then immediately add the grated courgette and the carrot, half of the thyme and two bay leaves that you can break into two.
    Try not breaking them into smaller pieces as they will need to be picked/fished out at the end of the cooking, before mixing with the meat. Cook for a further 3 mins. 
  • Add 1 can of chopped tomato or tomato juice (even a cream of tomato soup if you’d like) and allow this to start boiling. Turn the heat off and set aside for a little while till slightly cool.
    ❗Tip: My mum told me to never mix the hot mixture with the mince as the meat will get spoiled. I’m stuck with this idea in my head- if you know otherwise.... just do as you know ☺
  • Cut each leaf in two by the thick vein found in the middle of each leaf, cut out the remaining thick vein. Easier to handle.
  • In a large bowl add the mince meats, the smoked bacon, very little salt, pepper, chopped parsley, dill and the rice n’ vegetable mixture once this has cooled. Mix well until it becomes homogeneous. 
  • Let’s get rolling these beauties. Place about 1 1/2 tbsp of meat mixture on a taylored cabbage leaf. Fold in the sides and roll. Tuck in the side ends. Repeat until you finished the mixture.
  • Place all rolled up cabbage rolls into the pot or dish you desire to cook them in. I use this Insta pot. Place some herbs like thyme, lovage and couple of broken bay leaves in between along with the smoked pork or beef ribs.
  • Set up the pot manually for 30-40 min and set the pressure knob on closed so that the pressure will be contained rather than released. They’re ready when the pressure cooker says it’s finished.
    I occasionally cook them further with taking the lid off and set to cook for a further 15 -20 min just to reduce the juice if too much or too watery.

    This operation has to be done super carefully and you should only attempt to open the lid once the pressure inside the cooker has gone so needs to be left for a while or the pressure released manually by opening the top knob until no more steam comes out so all that whistling ended.
  • Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or double cream. I personally like the sour cream or the creme fraiche (smantana) as I feel that goes very well with it rather than the sweet double or single cream. 
    Of course a polenta alongside will be even better but I leave that to your personal preferences.


Preparation time
This really depends on how many times you’ve made cabbage rolls before- it can take from 20 min to 40 min to get them in the pot. It really depends on what leaves you are using (fresh or sour) and the level of expertise on rolling. 
Salt amount 
The amount of salt you may use depends very much on whether you use fresh cabbage or sour one. For fresh cabbage you will use more salt but if you are using sour one you will need to be careful as this is already quite salty unless you left it in a pool of water for 1-3 hours. I’m not in control with the salt. Also remember that bacon also contains salt. You can certainly add more salt when serving if needed. 
Boiling or cooking time
It all depends on how you choose to cook them, if you choose to cook them in the oven cooking time will have to be 2-3 hours, if you cook them in an instant pot or pressure cooker (like I do) the time will be less than 1 hour and if you cook them on the stove the cooking time will also be around 2-3 hours- get them to boiling point and then reduce the fire to medium or even low. 
The cabbage rolls or sarmale only need to be cooked till they become fork-tender and that means they are done! - there is absolutely no point in overcooking them. It is sufficient for you to cook them once a twice and understand exactly how long they need cooking depending on how you choose to cook. You will then become an expert! 
Cabbage type and preparation
The cabbage has to be a savoy or the Turkish (flatter looking) ones and not the supermarket dense and heavy super round one - it is important to choose the right type if you want to have a nice looking and to successfully manage to roll those and not having to pin them with toothpicks or wooden skewers. I’m mentioning this as I have seen this done a few times in my life 😊. Totally unnecessary if you choose the right cabbage. 
If you choose to use fresh cabbage there will be a little preparation required by having to blanch the cabbage. To do this one large cabbage should be sufficient for this recipe. The cabbage needs to be cored first, and then added into a large pot with salty boiling water for about 5-6 min -remove and place into cold water.
The pickled or sour cabbage is a lot easier (tastier too if you like) and can now be widely found in any Eastern European or Turkish grocery stores here in the UK.
Freezing the cabbage ...
Another alternative to softening the cabbage leaves is to freeze it for a day or two, remove it from the freezer and thaw it at room temperature. Once this has thawed completely the leaves should be nice and soft.
The rice
The rice does not have to be pre-cooked but just shallowly or briefly cooked with the veggies for no longer than 5 min. That is all, the rest will be looked after later. 
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Cabbage rolls ‘sarmale’ stuffed with ground beef veggies and rice


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23 thoughts on “Cabbage rolls ‘sarmale’ stuffed with ground beef, veggies and rice”

    • Hi Amanda,
      Thank you so much for your kind comment, I really appreciate it. I make them vegetarian too with mushrooms as a substitute to meat – they are soooo delicious – absolutely divine. Quorn mince also works fab if you are using it – my mum actually uses soya mince when she turns the vegan mode on. 😉
      Enjoy and let me know if you have made them, I’d be really happy to hear from you on how you found them.

    • Hi Dawn, They are a real treat indeed – soo good and super healthy too – traditionally they were made with fatty meat but I never do- I use a lot of veggies and no oils at all. 😉

  1. These sound delicious and bring back memories for me! I visited Romania about 20 years ago and had a wonderful time as well as eating some cabbage rolls very similar to these.

  2. I love this recipe, it is so common here in Eastern Hungary, every festival we go to have huge trays of the stuff… Not to mention it being on every restaurant menu. Such a great comforting treat!

    • Hi Brian and thank you so much for your comment.
      Yes, in eastern europe these are a staple almost anywhere you go, Russia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria – I believe the whole lot makes those starting from Iran all the way to Scandinavia. A lot of countries make them in vine leaves too. Simply too good to miss those beauties, I agree. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thank you so much Amanda, they really are packed with flavour and I am so sure your family would love those tremendously. Let me know if you make them and how everyone liked this hearthy dish.

  3. I sometimes make cabbage rolls at home. It is always great comfort food. It is amazing how we manage to reduce the times of cooking certain meals from when our parents or grants used to cook. Looks delicious!

    • Thank you Mirlene,
      That’s right, but I feel that we need to! Can you imagine cooking for hours and hours nowadays? I can’t – we’re soo much busier than our grandmas 😉

    • Thank you Julie, you’re so right!
      I somehow have a fixation for cabbage – I love cabbage a lot and my fridge always has cabbage in, I’m using all sorts and types in salads, casseroles stir fry it, you name it.

  4. These look so delicious! Funny, my son just came to visit us today with his friend from Romania! She says this is very good recipe!! I want her to make me some!

    • Thank you Beth! Hehe, a Romanian would know what a good recipe for good ‘sarmale’ is. Lol. I’m really glad she liked the recipe, you must get some made for you, no pressure towards your son’s friend 😜

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