Sarmale (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) (Vegan)

Pin1KShare92Tweet7Share4WhatsAppEmail1K Shares Jump to Recipe

Bursting with flavour, my vegan version of Romanian sarmale is easy to make, and packed with goodness. These cabbage rolls will keep for around 10 days in the ‘fridge, and taste even better the longer they’re kept.

What do you do when you have a garden full of cabbages? Why, you do what your neighbours do, and make enough sauerkraut to see you through the cooler months. Yum!

And then you use it to make sarmale.

Delicious, rich, hearty, comforting sarmale. My tummy rumbles, just thinking of these Romanian cabbage rolls! (Although, I admit, mine are only loosely based on Romanian ones.)


Until I went to live in Slovenia, I’d never even tried sauerkraut. It was one of those things on my pretty short list-of-foods-I-don’t-fancy-because-I’ve-had-a-similar-thing-and-didn’t-like-it. In this case, pickles. Apart from onions, I’m really not a fan of pickled foods. They’re far too vinegary and face-scrunching for me.

Right about now is when all you fermented food fans will be rushing to tell me that fermented foods are not like pickles, right?

It’s okay, I know this now!

This jar of murături asortate (assorted fermented vegetables and herbs) is ENORMOUS! It stands around 30cm (12″) high. It’s the size of a newborn baby, I tell you!

These murături (brine-fermented chillies, onions, and garlic) are from a local lady at the market – they put paid to every notion I’ve ever had about Balkan people not eating hot and spicy food. These would, I suspect, be challenging for my Thai friends. I will be able to make 72,543 curries with this jar – that’s how flimmin’ evil it is! (Disclaimer: this number may be slightly exaggerated.)

The first sauerkraut I tried was out of a jar from a supermarket, and I really enjoyed it. And then my friend, Desa, made some, and gave me a very large bowlful. That was such a wow moment… Mind and taste-buds well and truly blown!

I won’t buy commercially-produced sauerkraut now – not least because it seems it lacks the probiotic advantages of home-made fermented foods. As someone with IBS, I’m a big fan of eating (and drinking) stuff that can help my poor old tum when it has an episode.

It’s entirely possible to make sarmale from non-fermented cabbage, by the way, but you will have to blanch the leaves in order to make them pliable enough to roll.

How to make sarmale

Making these sarmale is so simple, just separate the cabbage leaves, and rinse them under cold running water. Place any small or torn ones onto the bottom of a large pan or casserole dish. Remove the central ribs from the leaves, and put those in the pot too.

Mix up your stuffing in a large bowl, plonk some of it onto a cabbage leaf, wrap up, and place in the pan on top of the leaves. Repeat until you’ve used up the cabbage. Add some rich tomatoey gravy, cover the plan, and then cook over a low heat (or in a low-moderate oven) for around three hours.

How to wrap sarmale. (Yes, I know these are dolma but the principal is the same!)

If that’s not clear, check out this video!

Assembling the cabbage rolls

Yes, it takes a bit of time to put these together but there’s no law that says you can’t sit down, and watch some TV while you’re stuffing the cabbage leaves. I’m actually rather fond of watching Gardener’s World while I’m prepping food like this.

By the way, Sarmale are such a huge part of Romania’s food identity, you can buy rice that’s labelled especially for sarmale. I think that actually, it’s just a short-grain rice, such as is used for rice pudding in Britain, but I like that I can go into a supermarket and easily buy the best rice for the job!


Once the sarmale are cooked, serve them with some creamy, soft mămăligă (similar to polenta), one or two fermented/pickled chillies, and some sour cream or plain yoghurt. If you can find fresh cornmeal from your local farmers market, it’s far superior to anything you’ll buy in the supermarket.

I also love to have fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes with sarmale. Sometimes, I’ll have both!

Spicy wedges work well too. They may not be traditional but they’re delicious when dipped in the sarmale gravy. 😉

How long do sarmale keep?

As I said at the beginning of this post, these will keep for around 10 days in an airtight container in the ‘fridge, and the flavour and richness improves over time. I really do recommend making a lot because you will want to have them more than once!

Whether you serve these cabbage rolls in traditional Romanian style, or your own way, I’m sure you’ll love them! Pofta buna!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *