Sour Cabbage Rolls (Sarma)

Bulgarian sour cabbage rolls (Sarma), stuffed with pork meat, onions and spices. Slowly cooked in the oven or slow cooker, these cabbage rolls are delightful.

sour cabbage rolls sarma

Are you familiar with sour cabbage? It’s a type of fermented cabbage (with all the health benefits) that is traditionally enjoyed thought-out the Southeastern European and ex-Ottoman territories – think Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia even Romania.
People prepare whole cabbages (or just the leaves) for fermentation, usually in late fall. So, they can enjoy them around Christmas time in many variations. With rice and spices, with minced meat and rice or in this case with pork meat, baked in the oven. If you are unsure what exactly sour cabbage is, read along and I’ll explain.

This recipe I learned from my mother in law a few years back. It’s a family favorite, especially in colder winter months. Let me show you how I make it.

Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Sour cabbage leaves, large- from one large cabbage. Substitute with fresh green/white cabbage. Works perfectly fine too.
  • Pork shoulder, cut – in small, small pieces
  • Spices savory (a traditional Bulgarian spice), can be substituted with dried mint, thyme and/or oregano.
  • Tomato paste – or canned tomatoes/fresh finely chopped tomatoes
  • Sweet paprika
  • Black pepper and salt to taste
  • Olive oil – for sautéing. Or any type of vegetable oil.
  • Onion – spring onion or yellow onions. Finely chopped.

What is sour cabbage?

Sour cabbage is a type of fermented cabbage enjoyed throughout Southeastern European and ex-Ottoman countries ( like Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Turkey, Armenia, etc.). Cabbage gets fermented whole or just the leaves in a large pot filled with water and sea salt. A few vegetables are usually thrown in for more nutrient dense results.

The word ‘Sarma’ is from Turkish origin, meaning ‘wrapped’. ‘Sarma’ refers to a variety of meals – cabbage or vine leaves with different stuffing (rice, minced meat, chopped meat, a mix of the two, etc.).

How to make stuffed cabbage rolls with meat

1st: Prepare the meat and onions 1st.

2nd: Then, stuff cabbage leaves and bake in the oven.

3rd: I prefer to bake the leaves in a glass pot with a lid. Also a large clay pot or Dutch oven would be suitable.

sour cabbage rolls sarma


sour cabbage rolls sarma

Stuffed sour cabbage (Sarma)

The European Dish
Delicious sour cabbage leaves, stuffed with pork meat and spices. Slowly cooked in glass pot or Dutch oven.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Bulgarian,, European
Servings 5 People


  • 1 Dutch oven/glass pot with lid


  • 700 g pork shoulder finely chopped
  • 1 sour cabbage (7 to 10 large leaves)
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. savoury (mint or oregano)
  • 1 tbsp. sweet paprika
  • 4 tbsp. olive oill


  • Chop onions and pork shoulder in small pieces. The smaller – the better. Sauté in preheated pan with olive oil for a few minutes (until meat changes colour).
  • Add spices (savoury, paprika) and tomato paste. Sauté for a few additional minutes and remove from stove.
  • Open each sour cabbage leave and add 1-2 tbsp. of pork stuffing in the center. Fold inwards from each side and place into baking dish – folded side down.
  • Repeat for remaining stuffing. Then, add a few tbsp. of water in the pan where meat was precooked (to gather all remaining spices) and add to cabbage rolls. Cover with lid and bake for about 1 hour (1 hour and 20 min max) on 180 C/360F.
  • Remove from stove and serve warm.


  • Use glass baking dish with lid, large clay pot or Dutch oven to bake cabbage rolls in.
  • Add water /broth in the dish to cover 1/2 of cabbage rolls.
  • Bake with fan for about 10 minutes at the end (lid removed) to get a crispier feel. 
Keyword clay pot, Dutch oven, easy, glass pot, slow cooked
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