5 from 1 vote
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
3 hrs
Total Time
3 hrs 30 mins
Originally from the former Ottoman Empire, sarmas are cooked in Serbia by using sauerkraut leaves, ground meat, rice and seasonings.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Balkan
Servings: 6 people
Author: Mike Benayoun
For the sarma
  • 1 large fermented cabbage (see recipe below)
  • ½ lb smoked bacon
  • 1 lb smoked pork ribs (or smoked beef)
  • 2 lb ground meat (pork, veal, beef, or mixed)
  • 2 onions , chopped
  • 1-½ cup rice
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • Pepper
For the fermented cabbage (Sauerkraut)
  • 1 whole cabbage
  • Kosher salt (non-iodized *)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic , halved
  • Water
  • * It is important that the salt is not iodized as iodine prevents bacteria fermentation that is necessary for this recipe
  1. Remove the fermented cabbage leaves one by one, being careful to tear them as little as possible.
  2. If one or more leaves are torn (especially at first), it does not matter, keep them as they will be used later. The tiny leaves at the end are useful too, so do not throw them away.
  3. Wash the leaves, then soak in cold water. This helps the cabbage reject the excess salt and acidity.
  4. In a skillet, saute onions, a tablespoon of sweet paprika and add the bacon.
  5. When they are nicely browned, add the meat, lots of freshly ground pepper and a little salt.
  6. After a few minutes, when the meat is colored, add the rice. Stir well. Remove the stuffing from the heat.
  7. Line a cast iron pot with the small cabbage leaves.
  8. Add a few pieces of ribs or smoked meat. You will add them between every layer.
  9. On each cabbage leaf, place one to two tablespoons of filling (depending on the size of the leaf), then roll so as to form a small cushion.
  10. Carefully place the stuffed cabbage down in the pan.
  11. Operate in the same way with the remaining leaves.
  12. After the first layer, put two bay leaves, a few other pieces of meat, sprinkle with a little paprika and continue to place the stuffed cabbage, doing the same thing every subsequent stage.
  13. Cover the sarmas with the large torn cabbage leaves that were previously reserved.
  14. Cover with water. Cook over medium heat until boiling, then reduce heat to low.
  15. Sarmas get their unique taste with a long cooking time. Simmer at least for 3 hours, or more if you can. Sometimes, sarmas are cooked at least for an entire afternoon or night.
  16. Sarmas are cooked when the top leaves become almost transparent.
  17. Serve sarmas hot in a deeper dish, with the sauce and bits of dried meat or ribs that were cooked with them.
Fermented Cabbage (Sauerkraut)
  1. Prepare the brine by mixing hot water with salt in these proportions: 33 grams of salt for 4 cups of water.
  2. Rinse a large bowl, ideally clay or glass with boiling water. Place the whole cabbage if possible, or alternatively, if the opening of the container is not large enough, place one leaf at a time, ensuring that they remain intact.
  3. Cover with brine. Add the garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns.
  4. The brine must completely cover the cabbage. Cabbage tend to rise to the surface, so place a large stone or a wooden or ceramic object at the top that is heavy enough to prevent the ingredients from coming back to the surface and be in contact with the air, creating mildew.
  5. Close the container, making sure there is enough air above the brine. Indeed, the fermentation will release gas, so it will need some space to release.
  6. Place a towel on the container if the container is transparent (glass) as the preparation should not be in contact with light.
  7. Ideally, you should leave at room temperature (70 F). At this temperature, the fermentation will be optimal at 4-5 weeks. If the temperature is lower, the fermentation will take longer.