Romanian cuisine: how to prepare delicious sarmale after local recipe

"Sarmale" is one of the Romanian traditional dishes with a long history in our country. It is one of the Romanians' favorite dishes, which is cooked especially near the Easter or winter holidays. Almost every woman above the age of 40 in Romania knows the recipe for delicious sarmale, adapting it to her own tastes.
prepare delicious sarmale after local recipe

Even the American publication Business Insider included Romanian sarmale on the list of international dishes that should be tried by any tourist around the world.

If you have moved to Romania or are only here for a short time, you must learn how to prepare delicious sarmale, after the recipe that only our grandmothers know.

We will explain you the method of preparing the delicious culinary preparation, so that you can learn the perfect technique for preparing sarmale.

History of the sarmale

Sarmaua (singular, and “sarmale” for plural) is a traditional dish prepared from minced meat, mixed with rice, onions and other spices, wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves or vine leaves. Apart from Romania, this type of dish is known in many other countries, such as Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Greece, Moldova, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Poland, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Turkey.

Actually, it seems that the Turkish cuisine is the one that carried the tradition of sarmale in all countries, during their Ottoman occupation.

In each of the countries listed above, the dish of sarmale has a different name. From “golubtsy” in Poland, “kåldolmar” in Sweden, “tolma” in Armenia, “avgolemono” in Greece, to “sarma” in Kosovo or Romania, this delicious food is to everyone’s taste. The recipe vary from country to country, but the main ingredients remain largely the same.

In Romania, the tradition of preparing sarmale is a strong one, being associated with our traditional Romanian food. People associate it with the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.

The recipe for sarmale is not the same all over the country, with each Romanian region having slightly different recipe than others. For example, in Moldova the sarmale are small and dense, and the contents are wrapped in sweet cabbage. In Transylvania, sarmale are large, fragrant, with a lot of sauce, smoked and boiled in a clay pot. Oltenian specific sarmale do not use smoked meat when boiling, but a lot of thyme. However, among the basic ingredients in all traditional recipes we find pork, cabbage, rice, tomato sauce and pepper.

How to prepare delicious sarmale, after local recipe

The preparation of a delicious sarmale dish is a process that involves a little attention and skill, so that the final result is a tasty and savory one. Whether you choose to prepare delicious sarmale with minced meat, soy, poultry or mushrooms, the preparation process itself is similar. You can use pickled cabbage leaves (sauerkraut), vine leaves, spinach leaves, stevia or horseradish to wrap the stuffing.

We will explain step by step how to prepare delicious sarmale with pickled cabbage leaves (sauerkraut) and minced meat mixed with rice. For this recipe, you will need:

  • 1-2 pickled cabbages (sauerkraut),
  • 1 kg of minced pork,
  • 1 cup of rice,
  • a large onion,
  • 150 – 200 g tomato paste,
  • salt, pepper, thyme,
  • bay leaves,
  • paprika pepper,
  • peppercorns,
  • 2-3 tablespoons of oil,
  • 10 pieces of smoked pork.

Read also: Most interesting Easter customs of Romanians, explained

Depending on how many sarmale you want to prepare, you can doze the ingredients lower or higher.

First of all, you have to peel the pickled cabbage leaves, wash them very well and leave them to dry off overnight, or even for a few days if the cabbage is very salty.

On the day of preparing the sarmales, make sure you have all the ingredients at hand. Start by finely chopping the onion, then fry it in a hot oil pan. Wash and drain the rice well, then place it in the pan over the onion. Stir for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste and a glass of water in the pan. Leave the composition on fire for a few minutes, then set aside to cool. After the composition has cooled, add the minced meat and spices, and then mix very well.

The next step is to fill the cabbage leaves. Take each leaf, fill it with a spoonful of the composition and then roll it lightly but tightly so that it does not fall apart during boiling.

After you have finished rolling all the sarmale, the remaining cabbage must be finely chopped and placed on the bottom of a cooking pan. Place a row of chopped cabbage, then arrange the sarmale in layers, sprinkling thyme, bay leaves and the pieces of smoked pork. Continue until you have finished arranging all the sarmale, then sprinkle chopped cabbage, the rest of the tomato paste and 2-3 glasses of water on top. Cover the cooking pan with a lid and simmer for a few hours. To prevent the sarmale from smoking, turn the pan occasionally while on fire.

For a sensational taste, after they have finished cooking, put the sarmale in the oven just for a few minutes to bake and get a bit of brownish.

You can serve the sarmale with hot peppers, polenta and sour cream, accompanied by the famous Romanian drink, “țuica” (a sort of a brandy).

You can prepare delicious sarmale from either pork or poultry, or a mix of pork and beef. You could also replace meat with soy, or any vegetables such as mushrooms or raisins, for fasting or vegetarian sarmale recipes. You can choose not to add smoked pork or tomato sauce, and as alternative you can boil the sarmale in wine. Adding or removing each ingredient will change the final taste of the dish, but you can experiment until you manage to prepare some delicious sarmale, that fit to your own taste.

Tips for preparing the best dish of sarmale

There is no recipe for sarmale that can fail. But you can take into account a few tips to learn how to prepare delicious sarmale, which will delight all your friends:

  • wash the rice well before using it to remove as much of the starch as possible. If you do this well, the rice beans will not stick together when boiling, and the sarmale will be fluffier and tastier;
  • if the meat you use is not very fatty, add a few tablespoons of cornmeal or mush. If the meat is too fatty, you can use an egg to bind the composition;
  • If you want an intense taste, you can use a few pieces of smoked pork added to the sarmale during boiling;
  • before using the pickled cabbage leaves, put them in water for 24 to 48 hours before preparing the dish, so they have time to desalinate;
  • serve the dish with hot peppers, polenta and cream for a very special and Romanian experience.

Although sarmale are very often prepared by Romanians for religious holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, you can choose to prepare them whenever you want, to pamper your taste buds with one of the tastiest traditional Romanian dishes.

Picture of Georgiana Dima

Georgiana Dima


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