Sarma Recipe – Serbian Cabbage Rolls

Sarma is the delicious Serbian take on classic filled cabbage rolls.
By Milica Cvetkovic

Serbian Sarma Recipe

I’m pretty sure you’ve already tried something similar. But if not, let me introduce you Sarma (cabbage rolls) – spicy sour cabbage leaves stuffed with ground beef, cooked in the oven or on the stove, in Serbia traditionally spiced with home made smoked bacon or other smoked meat and aleva paprika (ground chili) – we like it hot!

Serbian Sarma Recipe

5.0 from 3 reviews
Serbian Sarma Recipe
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
Recipe Type: Main
Serves: 5
  • 20 small sour cabbage leaves
  • 1 pound (450g) minced beef
  • 1 onion, finelly chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finelly chopped
  • ¼ cup (50g) rice
  • salt, pepper, to taste
  • ground chilly, to taste
  • 7 tbs (105ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs (30g) flour
  • bunch of parsley
  • extra chilly and parsley for sprinkling
  • 4-5 slices of smoked ham or bacon
  • 1 and ⅔ cup (400ml) water + ⅔ cup (160ml)
  1. First of all wash cabbage and remove the hard piece of stem in the bottom of the leaf. Be carefull and try not to make hole. Leave a side.
  2. Fry chopped onion in 2 tbs oil until golden brown. Add splash of water and cook until liquid evaporates and onion are soften, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add chopped carrot, stir once, add beef, stir again and let it cook for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally with wooden spoon to break the beef lumps.
  4. Now it's time to add rice. It's very important to stir constantly when you add it. Cook fot another 5 minutes and remove from heat.
  5. Season with salt, ground pepper, ground chilly and finelly chopped parsley. Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees C and prepare baking dish 20x28cm.
  6. Now you fill the cabbage. Place a spoon of beef in the middle of bottom the leaf. Fold from left then fold from right. Roll the cabbage keeping fingers firmly on the side.
  7. Place rolls in oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with chilly and parsley. Place bacon slices in the middle. Pour 1 and ⅔ cup of water in.
  8. Bake covered for 1 hour then reduce temperature to 200 degrees C and bake for another 1 hour.
  9. In the end, fry shortly flour with 5 tbs of oil in small sauce pan, stirring constantlly and adding chilly gradually. In the same time remove baking dish from the oven, pour ⅔ cup of water and mixture of flour, oil and chilly. Put uncovered dish in the oven for another 15 minutes.
  10. Serve hot!

  1. These look so good! We have lots of cabbage in Portugal so I’m always willing to try a new recipe for cabbage leaves! I love the bacon/smoked ham part of it, though I’ll probably have to substitute it for presunto instead (usually salted cured ham) :)

  2. Just came back from working in Belgrade for a year. I’m trying to introduce my family to this cuisine but want more variety in dishes. Any more Balkan/Serbian recipes you recommend?

  3. Hello everyone,
    First, I want to thank Milica for a wonderful recipe and I will definitely try to make it. This is one of many traditional Serbian dishes, but for sure one of the most authentic ones. After looking for sour cabbage for a very long time, I finally found it at a Russian grocery store. It can definitely be found at some specialty stores like Asian markets, European stores and such. It is packed in jars and the label on it will say “whole cabbage leaves”.
    I hope this helped

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