Croatian Sarma Recipe (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

What is the recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls? That’s the question that so many of my friends and family ask. These tasty Croatian cabbage rolls are known as Sarma and are a must-try food all over the Balkans.

Back in Sydney, the king of Croatian Sarma in our family is Tetak Zeljko (uncle), and he is absolutely famous for his Sarma recipe. Tetak Zeljko always brings a massive pot of sarma to each big family gathering, and the house immediately smells of sauerkraut (kiseli kapus). To some people, the smell is offensive, but I love it.

This Aussie girl also makes sarma and has done so for over 15 years. My Croatian sarma has never been as good as Tetak’s, although he has been kind enough to give me some tips.

However, he has never given me HIS actual recipe. I guess he doesn’t want to give up the throne just yet. Frankly, I do not blame him because this way, he gets all of the praise for having the best-stuffed cabbage roll recipe in Sydney.

How to make Sarma Recipie - Chasing the DOnkey
Stuffed cabbage rolls (Sarma), ready to devour

Now that I am no longer in Australia, I find that people here are not only much more willing to share their tips, but they love to impart their knowledge on recipes that have been in their families for generations. When it comes to making Croatian food, I am blessed that I have so many teachers.

A few weeks ago, I spent some time asking different members of our family for their stuffed cabbage roll recipes. From that, I have a few new tips that will get me closer to having the perfect stuffed cabbage roll recipe. I’ve pinched the best bits from them to enhance my own recipe. After all, all good cooks would agree that it’s nice to find out how someone else cooks a recipe so you can improve your own.

I’ve taken my old faithful, blended it with the Croatian family recipe, and a few tips that I have been given along the way. So, now, it’s my turn to share with you how to make sarma. I hope you like it.

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How To Make Croatian Sarma – AKA Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Making sarma

Sarma are easy to make but does take a bit of time to prepare and cook. So, I’ve come up with the easy stuffed cabbage roll/sarma recipe to reduce the time it will take you.

You’ll need to start this at least 3 hours before the time you want to eat them. Once cooked, they taste better the longer they are left so that you can make them the day before. Anything listed as optional is to taste, so do add more or less of the flavors you like. Mr. Chasing the Donkey and I prefer a lot of paprika and smoked meat in our dishes, so you can cut back on any of these and still have a delicious-tasting dish.

How to make Sarma

Croatian Sarma Recipe (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

My Croatian sarma recipe was years in the making. With hints and tips from Croatia and Australia, I've perfected my sarma recipe to now share it with you.



  • Entire pickled/sour cabbage head (do not use a regular cabbage)
  • 1 kg of mincemeat (2.2 lbs). I prefer 50% pork neck and 50% veal, but you can use whatever you like best
  • 200 g of finely diced špeck or smoked bacon (8 oz)
  • 4 peeled & crushed garlic cloves
  • 1/2 bunch finely chopped parsley leaves
  • 3 Tbls. of soda water or a big pinch of bicarbonate soda
  • 1 cup of uncooked rice
  • 1 1/2 Tbls. Vegeta
  • 1 Tbls. hot ground paprika (optional)
  • 1 Tbls. sweet paprika (optional)
  • 2 Tbls. breadcrumbs (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbls. olive oil

Sarma Sauce

  • 2 onions, chopped fine
  • 3 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
  • 100 g diced smoked špeck/pancetta or smoked bones (4 oz)
  • 1/2 bunch chopped parsley
  • 2 carrots diced small
  • 400 g (small tin) passata (2 cups)
  • 1/2 kg shredded sauerkraut (3 cups). Make sure you give it a very good rinse in fresh water before using
  • Salt and pepper


Sarma Preparation

  1. Take an entire pickled cabbage head. You'll find these on Amazon or in European delicatessens in the chilled section. Wash each leaf thoroughly. Remove the thick part of the stem without tearing the leaves. It's best to allow the leaves to drain on some paper towel or pat each one dry
  2. Take a large mixing bowl, and combine mincemeat, speck, garlic, parsley leaves, soda water or bicarbonate soda, rice, Vegeta, hot paprika (optional), sweet paprika (optional), breadcrumbs (optional), Salt and pepper, egg & olive oil
  3. Mix all of the ingredients until well combined

Let's Roll The Sarma

  1. You want each of the leaves to be about the same size so that each cabbage roll cooks at the same time. So go ahead and cut any large leaves in half, and also join two smaller leaves together as you go
  2. Take approx 3 tablespoons of the minced meat, and gently combine in the palm of your hand. Do not roll or compress as this will make them too dense when you eat them
  3. Place the meat on the edge of the cabbage leaf and roll away from you. Then tuck in the sides of the leaf gently into the meat. There should be no exposed meat. If there is, remove some of the filling
  4. Set the sarma aside, and prepare the sauce

Sarma Sauce

  1. In a shallow saucepan, or even better, a Le Creuset cast-Iron dish, splash in some extra virgin olive oil, add the 2 diced onions and cook until transparent on low heat. Then add the 2 diced carrots, diced speck, and parsley. Continue to fry on low heat until carrots start to soften
  2. Add the shredded sauerkraut and create a layer on the bottom of the saucepan. Now, pack the Croatian sarma into the saucepan. They should be packed close together.
  3. Pour in boiling water so that it just covers the sarma. Add the passata and a pinch of salt and pepper. Every 30 minutes, give the saucepan a shake (do not stir them or they will break) and let them simmer for 2 hours on a low-medium heat


Never mix with a spoon as you will break the sarma. Always shake the pot or use a spoon to gently move them around.

Croatian Sarme Recipe

So, are you going to give this sarma recipe a try? How different are these sarma from your stuffed cabbage roll recipe?

More Tasty Croatian & Balkans Recipes

Comments (126)

  1. I made polished cabbage rolls for years when I seen your recipe I had to make it it was a five star for sure my husband is croatian he always wanted me to make sarma

  2. Wthank you so much for this delicious recipes!
    I find it hard to find them in Canadian measuring scales.Love your site! Keep giving us more!

    1. You are welcome, though I have no clue how these compare to Canadian measurements – hope they work out for you.

  3. Mmmm ……. SJ maybe not my first choice at 33 degrees in the shade. 3️⃣3️⃣‼️

  4. Bést recipe for Croatian summer SJ: #1 get a glas with half a liter of cóld beer. #2 move it up, polako !!!, put it down again and wait for two minutes. #3 do exactly the same again until empty. #4 put empty glas aside and do the same steps again, again and again. #5 if having more guests, just multiply these simple steps.#6 go to sleep and redo same procedure next day.

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