Christmas Cuisine – Sarmale Recipe

A feast of lights and joyfulness – this is how I remember my Christmases in Romania. The Christmas tree was a “must have” in my family – I’ve never spent one single Christmas without it. Romanian carols, although sober and quite religious, were magic.

I miss Christmas. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas in Germany as well – I do, after all my family is here, and there’s nothing more important than having your family around you all the time. Yet something is missing. The children caroling with the star, gathering with friends and caroling on Christmas Eve, the food… wonderful, glorious food that makes my mouth water only when I think about it.


Kerry Kubilius of Guide to Eastern Europe Travel asked me, in a private email, to publish more recipes. Looking at this blog I realized that while traditions and attractions are quite rich (as rich as they can be in a blog with, so far, only 33 entries) food and drinks has only 2 entries and both are about… drinks.


Since Christmas is a special holiday and the food is special too, what better opportunity for a few new recipes? Besides, what better way to accept the Christmas Cheer Challenge initiated by Sue, than giving you a “secret” recipe?

Sarmale with polenta

Sarmale (pickled cabbage rolls) is one of my favorite dishes. It’s not exclusive for Christmas – all major holidays and celebrations (except Easter) offer a good reason for cooking sarmale. But since Christmas is the time when pork meat is particularly fresh (short before Christmas the pigs are slaughtered), Christmas sarmale are the tastiest.

Sarmale - pickled cabbage rolls.

For sarmale you need one large pickled cabbage, 1kg ground meat (pork), 2 large onions (finely chopped), 50 grams rice, lard, 5 tomatoes (or a can of pealed tomatoes – I do not recommend ready-made tomato sauce), four-five slices of smoked bacon, salt, pepper, water.

Pot of sarmale

Fry the onion in lard till it gets gold brown, then mix it in a bowl with the meat, rice, salt and pepper. Caution with the salt: sour cabbage is already salty and too much salt in the meat mixture could ruin your meal. Carefully remove the cabbage leaves one by one, paying attention not to tear them. Depending on how big your cabbage is you need whole leaves or halves to make the rolls. Remove cabbage core – it is hard to roll the meat mixture if you don’t.

The making of a cabbage roll.

In a deep pot place the rolls in concentric layers. Cover with a layer of chopped cabbage, then pour the tomatoes (chopped as well). Place one-two bacon slices randomly among the rolls. The bacon will give a special taste and aroma to the whole dish. Repeat this till all rolls are set in the pot. The last layer is whole cabbage leaves and tomatoes. Add water to slightly cover the last layer of cabbage. Place on stove, bring to boil, and then reduce heat to low and continue boiling for at least four hours. Serve hot, with polenta and sour cream.


Another great sarmale recipe you find here


  1. Hi! I am one of Kerry Kubilius’ colleagues at I have a Web site on Eastern European food. Romania is one of the countries I cover. I have so many countries to cover, I am still building my content. The recipe you post here for sarmale are exactly like Serbian sarma, which I have on my site. They’re wonderful, aren’t they? If you have a chance, please check out Thank you.

    Barb Rolek’s last blog post..Last Installment in the Virtual Holiday Cookie Exchange

  2. Well… sarmale is the plural of sarma – which makes sense.:)The dish has Turkish origins – and it is naturally common for Turkey and all other countries influenced by Turkish culture, including Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, etc. I am not surprised that the recipe is similar :)

    I’ll link to your blog as well. I am glad to hear you are covering Romanian food as well. Do you have a “mititei” recipe?

  3. mmm….Mihaela! Sarmale is my most favorite Romanian dish — and now I have the recipe! I am sure I will have it before — but maybe I will also surprise my family and friends and prepare it next Christmas, maybe even instead of Turkey. But I may have a mutiny on my hands if there is no turkey — as you know it is difficult to do away with established traditions!

    Thanks for posting this — and have a very, merry and wonderful Christmas (even if it is in Germany)!

    kaybee’s last blog post..Because He Came

  4. This feast makes our traditional roast seem tame by comparison although in England we did have a smorgasbord of food in the evening – cold meats and salad, pork pies, sausage rolls and scotch eggs (mum used to only bake those at Christmas), mince pies and various other baked goodies – always far too much food but it did last us for days after.

    Sueblimely’s last blog post..100+ Free Christmas Images and Blogging Gifts

  5. Hi
    Brilliant to see a recipe for Sarmale. Had Christmas in Brasov and Sarmale was the main course. Have always enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the website and Happy Christmas to you

  6. Sarmale is one of the dishes I most enjoyed during my stay in Romania in 1991. Thanks for sharing this recipe that brought back such wonderful memories.

    I used your recipe to make Sarmale for the ‘Culinary around the World event’ I participated in and linked it back to your blog.
    The Sarmale turned out delicious. My daughters even brought them to school for lunch!

    Thanks again for sharing!

  7. Liliana, I am glad you used this recipe :) I added a link to your blog at Rounite’s blogroll too!