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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Recipe: Sarmale

Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Romania
3-4 hours



Starting with Romania's first group of Peace Corps Volunteers in 1991, groups have developed a cookbook to help bring together the elements of food that we can make in our host country. Fast forward to present day, and you can find the cookbook printed in its fourth edition, as well as a website! Our Pofta Buna wiki contains all of the recipes in the cookbook, as well as additional recipes that Peace Corps Volunteers and Romanian host country nationals have added along the way. Please feel free to browse around, as there are numerous resources to help anyone on the site with conversions (U.S. to metric), special dietary concerns, and Romanian-English-Romanian translations.

One of our national dishes is called sarmale, which is a mixture of ground pork and rice with spices rolled in a cabbage leaf. Though many countries around us have similar dishes, this is a meal that is almost certain to be at major celebrations in Romania.

Notes: The recipe may look daunting, but sarmale are rather easy and inexpensive to make. The most time consuming part of making sarmale is the preparation. Once they are assembled, you just leave them alone. Don't worry if you don't have all the ingredients mentioned. The only secret to great sarmale is a lot of onion. As long as you have that, the rest is just added taste. This recipe will feed two people for a week. If you can't find an ingredient, leave it out. The ones you really need are onions (plenty of them!), tomato paste, and lots of seasoning. This recipe can be halved.

Variations: This is a great way to meet other Romanians; everyone has a different and unique sarmale recipe, and the discussion about the proper way to make them can last hours! Have fun experimenting, and don't be intimidated!

Substitutions: Ground beef or any other ground meat.

Enjoy! And as we say here in Romania, "Pofta Buna!" Eat well! 

Materials & Procedures


  1. 1 c Slănină (bacon fat) (chopped)
  2. 3 Onions (medium)
  3. 4 Tomatoes
  4. 1½ Red bell peppers
  5. ¾ c Shredded carrots
  6. 4T Vegeta (vegetable or chicken bullion)
  7. ½ tsp. pepper
  8. 2 tsp. sweet paprika
  9. 2 T dill
  10. 3 T tomato paste
  11. 3-4 c mushrooms (optional)
  12. 3 T dried parsley
  13. ½ c water
  14. 3 c rice (round)
  15. 4 ½ lb beef (ground
  16. 1 T salt
  17. 1 T Vinegar
  18. 2 cabbage heads
  19. ¼ c fresh parsley
  20. Assorted herbs to taste
  21. Sour cream as needed


  1. To prepare the filling, heat oil and chopped slănină on medium heat.
  2. Chop onions, tomatoes, and peppers, then add to pan.
  3. Add shredded carrot, vegeta, pepper, ardei dulce (sweet pepper, or paprika), dill, tomato paste, and chopped mushroom.
  4. Mix dried parsley with ½ c water and add to pan.
  5. Mix together, and then add the rice. Simmer for 10 minutes. Take off flame. Add ground meat and mix well.
  6. To prepare the cabbage, fill a deep pot ¾ full with water, 1 T salt, and 1 T vinegar. Place over high heat.
  7. Cut out the hearts of the cabbages and dunk the cabbage into the pot.
  8. With a fork, start separating the leaves of the cabbage, one by one. Blanche for two minutes then place them in a separate bowl.
  9. Cut off thick stems.
  10. To assemble the sarmale, place roughly 1 T of stuffing on cabbage leaf and roll tightly like a cigar. Tuck in the ends.
  11. Place unused cabbage leaves at the bottom of the pot, along with the fresh parsley and any other spices you happen to have (dill, basil, thyme, etc.), to prevent burning of the sarmale.
  12. Add water until sarmale are covered, and then cover pot with lid and let cook over low flame for at least one hour or until half the water has evaporated. Serve with smântână (sour cream).

About the Author

Heather Ferguson

This recipe was submitted to World Wise Schools by Heather Ferguson, Environmental Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Romania.

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