Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma Recipe

Traditional dish is made with sour cabbage leaves and a filling of minced meat, rice, onions, and spices.

By xp5u9
May 12, 2023
Rating: 0.00

The Balkan sour cabbage sarma recipe is a traditional dish popular across the Balkan region and has been passed down from generation to generation. This delicious recipe is a combination of sour cabbage leaves, ground meat, rice, and various spices.

Sarma is the heart and soul of Balkan cuisine. This beloved dish is a testament to the region’s rich history, culture, and traditions. It has been passed down from generation to generation, with each family putting their unique spin on it.

The dish consists of minced meat (usually beef or pork) mixed with rice and wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves. The rolls are then cooked slowly in a tomato-based sauce until they’re tender and bursting with flavor. Sarma is typically served during special occasions such as weddings, religious holidays, and family gatherings.

Although sarma may look simple, it takes time and patience to prepare it properly. Each step requires attention to detail – from blanching the cabbage leaves to seasoning the meat mixture just right. But once you take that first bite of sarma, you’ll understand why it is so revered among the Balkan people.

While some people make it with boiled cabbage leaves, others prefer to use cabbage that was fermented in a barrel for months, similar to sauerkraut. This adds an extra dimension of sourness to the already delicious sarma.

Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma Recipe Variations

Balkan cuisine has a rich and diverse culinary heritage, and one of its most famous dishes is the sour cabbage sarma recipe. This dish has been passed down from generation to generation and it’s widely enjoyed throughout the Balkans. Although the basic recipe remains the same throughout the Balkans, each region adds its own unique twist to make it their own.

Some use beef or lamb mince as a filling while others prefer pork or even veal. The spices used also vary depending on where you are in the Balkans – paprika, cumin, and garlic are common ingredients but some regions add thyme or bay leaves for an extra burst of flavor.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, they use smoked meats like bacon or prosciutto to add depth to the flavor profile. In Serbia, they often use sauerkraut instead of sour cabbage leaves for a more pungent taste. In Croatia, they make vegetarian versions by filling the leaves with mushrooms or beans instead of meat.

Stuffed Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma Recipe

Preparing the Sour Cabbage Sarma

To make this Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma Recipe, you will need to start by preparing the filling. You can use any type of ground meat that you like or even skip the meat altogether if you want to make a vegetarian version. The key is to add plenty of spices and herbs such as paprika, cumin, parsley, and garlic for flavor. Then mix in cooked rice and chopped vegetables such as onions and carrots.

Cooking rice can be a bit tricky. Sometimes it may turn out mushy, or too dry, or burnt at the bottom of the pot. However, there are some simple tricks that can make your rice perfect every time. One of them is cooking on low heat and gradually adding vegetable stock.

When you cook rice on low heat, you allow the grains to absorb moisture slowly and evenly without getting overcooked or undercooked. This also helps to prevent sticking and burning at the bottom of the pot. Gradually adding vegetable stock instead of water gives your rice extra flavor and nutrients while keeping it moist and fluffy.

When it comes to preparing cabbage, there are a few things you can do to make the process easier and more efficient. One of the most important steps is selecting well-formed cabbage leaves and flattening their stems with a knife. This helps to ensure that the cabbage cooks evenly and doesn’t fall apart in your dish.

To begin, start by choosing a head of cabbage that feels firm and heavy for its size. Look for leaves that are tightly packed together without any signs of wilting or discoloration. Once you’ve selected your cabbage, remove any loose or damaged outer leaves and discard them.

Next, use a sharp knife to carefully slice off the stem at the bottom of each leaf. Then, place each leaf onto a cutting board with the flat side facing up. Use your knife to gently press down on the center of each stem until it lays flat against the board.

Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma Recipe

Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma Recipe

This delicious recipe is a combination of sour cabbage leaves, ground meat, rice, and various spices.
Servings 8
Prep Time 50 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 35 minutes


For Filling

  • 1-2 fermented cabbage heads
  • 250 g carrot (finely grated)
  • 1 cup onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 clove garlic minced
  • ½ cup bacon (finely chopped)
  • 150 g celery (finely grated)
  • lb ground meat (beef and pork)
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup rice 
  • ½ tbsp oil

For Finishing

  • 1 tbsp oil or butter
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • cup water


  • Place a pan on medium heat and add the oil.
  • Add onion, carrot, bacon, and celery, and sauté until onion is translucent.
  • Then add in garlic and paprika. Stir well for about 30 secs and add ground beef and pork.
  • Cook it until it becomes brown while stirring.
  • Add salt and black pepper then add rice.
  • Cook the rice on a low heat and slowly add a little of the water. When the rice is half cooked remove the pan from the heat
  • Select well-formed cabbage leaves and remove the rib with a knife. Then, place each leaf onto a cutting board with the flat side facing up.
  • Place 2 tbsp of the mixture on the cabbage leaf, fold the side edges, and roll it over. Repeat the step with the other cabbage leaves.
  • Cover the bottom of a baking pan with the chopped cabbage and place 1-2 cabbage leaves then transfer the cabbage rolls.
  • Cover ⅓ of the pan with water and sprinkle some paprika on top. Add the rest of the chopped cabbage
  • Preheat the oven to 350℉ and place the baking pan inside. Bake for about 50mins with a cover.
  • To prepare the sauce, in a small pan, heat oil then add flour. Add hot water and simmer on low heat for about 5-6 minutes while stirring, add paprika.
  • Spread it over the cabbage rolls. Cook sarma for 30 more minutes but remove the lid
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Balkan, Middle Eastern
Keyword: Cabbage rolls, Sarma

Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma Recipe FAQs

Can You Freeze Sour Cabbage Sarma?

If you’re a fan of Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma, you might be wondering if it’s possible to freeze this delicious dish. The good news is that yes, you can freeze Sarma! This traditional recipe is often made in large batches and freezes well, making it a great option for meal prep or leftovers.

To freeze Sarma, simply prepare the dish as usual and let it cool completely. Then, transfer the Sarma to an airtight container or freezer bag. Label the container with the date and contents before placing it in the freezer. When you’re ready to enjoy your frozen Sarma, simply thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before reheating it on the stove or in the microwave.

It’s important to note that while freezing Sarma is possible and convenient, there may be some texture changes after thawing.

How Long Does Sour Cabbage Sarma Last in the Fridge?

Balkan Sour Cabbage Sarma is a traditional recipe that has been passed down for generations, and it is a staple in many Balkan households. However, many people are unsure of how long sour cabbage lasts in the fridge once it has been prepared.

The good news is that sour cabbage can last for several weeks when stored properly in the refrigerator. It is important to store it in an airtight container or tightly sealed plastic bag to prevent moisture and bacteria from getting into the cabbage. Additionally, if you have leftover sarma, it should be stored separately from the remaining raw ingredients to prevent cross-contamination.

When reheating sarma or other dishes made with sour cabbage, it’s best to do so on low heat and for a short amount of time.

How Long Does Sour Cabbage Sarma Last in the Fridge?

Firstly, it’s important to note that sour cabbage can last in the freezer for up to 8-12 months when stored properly. This means that if you have any leftover sarma or other dishes made with sour cabbage, you can safely store them in an airtight container and keep them in the freezer for later consumption. It’s best to label and date your containers so that you don’t forget about them.

Explore More Sarma Recipes?

Did you make this Balkan sour cabbage sarma recipe?

Please let me know how it turned out for you! Leave a comment below and tag @thebalkanrecipes on Instagram and hashtag it #thebalkanrecipes.

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