Wednesday 16 March 2016

Unstuffed cabbage rolls - Sarmale made simple

Romanian food...NOM!

Years ago I made the most delicious cabbage roll meal (Sarmale) from back when I used cookbooks.  It literally which blew my socks off.  Sarmale made by wrapping a pork, rice, herb and spice mixture in par boiled cabbage leaves, then baking them in the oven with a tomato based sauce on top.  So healthy! The flavour was gorgeous but it took so so long to make, and didn't work so well with reheating.  I have wanted to make it again on numerous occasions but it has been too much work for one night only given how poorly it reheated.

A few weeks ago, however, I stumbled across a reference to "unstuffed cabbage rolls" and my world opened back up again - why must these flavours be served in such a finicky way?  Why not just throw in all of the distinctive flavours in one pot?  So I tried it, and I can tell you that I am a convert now.  I will never bother stuffing real cabbage rolls again.  Top this meal with a dollop of natural yoghurt with lemon rind and you have a winner!


  • 1kg lean pork mince
  • 8 rashers of shortcut bacon, diced
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 1 small head of cabbage, sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 800g tinned tomatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp dill
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • Lemon rind (one average sized lemon)
  • Natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup of saurkraut 
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)


  1. Brown the onion and bacon in a small amount of oil in a large frying pan until the onion is translucent and the bacon is browned.  Add garlic, tomato paste and spices, stir until fragrant.
  2. Add mince, brown.
  3. Add water, tinned tomatoes, cabbage, lemon juice, rice, salt, pepper, dill and saurkraut. Bring to the boil, then simmer, covered for 30mins.
  4. While this is happening, Zest one lemon rind into your natural yoghurt and stir.
  5. Remove the lid and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and the meal has thickened.
    How it should look when it is done (though if it is this blurry in person 
    you need glasses) - sorry for the terrible pic!
  6. Serve topped with additional sauerkraut (if desired) and yoghurt.

Our Take Aways

Yum yum yum yum yum.  The flavour profile of this dish is so different to what we normally eat and I could have it every second week.  It made enough for two of us to eat over 4 nights, so that is a big bonus, plus it is pretty healthy.  Added bonus: only one pot to wash!  It has been about a month since I actually made this, so perhaps we are due again next week....

ADIT: I made this again this week - NOM! And I have to say upon second cooking that the sauerkraut cannot be optional.  It makes the dish. I also reduced the amount of water because mine took too long to cook down tonight. I've updated the ingredients accordingly.  Still delicious though!


  1. Hi! It's Danielle M here... I think you just saved our day because Thomas keeps buying heaps of cabbage, and I just looked up the finnicky version and was about to just throw the cabbage out. I mean whaaaat! I'm not sitting around steaming cabbage all night. Then I remembered you'd posted this the other day. Righto, let's get started then...

  2. So glad to have posted just in time! Let me know how it goes :) The finicky version is waaaaay too much work and tastes about the same. May I recommend a glass of Geisen sauvignon blanc with this meal? It is the perfect match.