Traditional Bulgarian Sarma Recipe (Cabbage Rolls)

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This traditional Bulgarian sarma recipe features brined cabbage leaves or sauerkraut with a savory filling of chopped pork shoulder and rice.

The filling is also seasoned with some dried savory, black pepper, cumin, paprika and salt for additional flavor.

This recipe also comes with a few variation ideas in case you decide to try it out with a different flavor.

Bulgarian sarma served on a plate with a red chili pepper

Traditional Bulgarian Sarma Recipe (Cabbage Rolls)

Sarmas or cabbage rolls, are a staple Balkan dish that’s prepared in a number of different ways depending on the region you’re in.

Bulgarian sarmas are traditionally prepared with sauerkraut leaves and a mixture of pork shoulder, rice and some tomato sauce.

This sets them apart from Croatian and Serbian cabbage rolls which are typically prepared with ground pork and in some cases don’t contain any rice.

They’re also seasoned with a variety of different spices which are absent from most other sarma variations.


  • Brined cabbage leaves – These are usually sold in three pound jars. You’ll need about a jar and a half or four pounds, excluding the brine.
  • Rice – Any type of short grain rice will do the trick.
  • Pork shoulder – This recipe is made with pork shoulder, but you can also use Boston butt or any type of cut with a similar amount of marbling.
  • Tomato sauceA bit of tomato sauce will balance out and enrich the flavor of the cabbage rolls.
  • Seasonings – The cabbage rolls are seasoned with a mix of dried savory, black pepper, paprika, cumin and some salt.

Ingredients for Bulgarian sarma

How to make

Check out the recipe card at the end of this article for detailed, step-by-step instructions.

Start by mixing the chopped pork shoulder, rice, tomato sauce and seasonings into a large bowl.

Make sure the meat and rice are fully coated in the seasonings. Next, add some olive oil and hot water to the bowl and set it aside.

Chopping meat for sarma and mixing it with partially cooked rice

This will help all of the flavors in the filling to develop and get infused into the pork and the rice.

Continue by removing the root end from each cabbage leaf.

Once done, start spooning some of the filling over the cabbage leaves and roll each one into a log.

Spreading sarma filling over a sauerkraut leaf and rolling the sauerkraut leaf into a log

After you assemble all of the cabbage rolls, place a few cabbage leaves at the bottom of a pot and place the cabbage rolls inside.

Pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil and some of the brine over the cabbage rolls and press them down with a plate.

Finish by filling the pot with water and simmering the cabbage rolls for about an hour.

Spreading the cabbage rolls on the bottom of a pot and filling the pot with water

Tips and variations

  • Rinse the cabbage leaves with cold water – If your cabbage leaves are too salty, you can run them under some cold water and drain them. This will remove some of the salt and make them less salty.
  • Make the cabbage rolls ahead of time – Unlike most other foods, cabbage rolls tend to develop a deeper flavor with time. Making them the day before will ensure they have the best flavor.
  • Add some cured meat – You can add bits of bacon or Italian sausage for some additional flavor. Just don’t go overboard, since adding too much might make the cabbage rolls too salty.
  • Add some raisins – Adding some raisins or dried fruit to the filling will balance the acidity and the overall flavor.

A pot with fully cooked cabbage rolls


Cabbage rolls or sarma can be stored for up to three days in the fridge. Leaving them for a longer period of time increases the chance of contamination and food poisoning.

Make sure you store any leftovers you might have in an airtight container to ensure they stay fresh for longer.

a serving of bulgarian sarma cabbage rolls garnished with red chilli pepper

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Traditional Bulgarian Sarma Recipe (Cabbage Rolls)

These Bulgarian sarma (cabbage rolls) are brimming with tons of flavor and are super easy to make. Serve them over the weekend or on holidays along with some potato salad or some fresh homemade bread.
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Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
by: Aya
Servings: 25
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Balkan, bulgarian


  • 4 pounds brined cabbage leaves Net Wt.
  • 1 pound pork shoulder chopped; you could also use Boston pork butt
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 onion medium; finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp savory dried
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water hot
  • 1 cup cabbage leaf brine


  • Rinse the rice and strain it using a sieve.
  • Add the meat, onion, rice, tomato sauce, salt, black pepper, paprika, cumin, and savory into a bowl.
  • Stir everything together so the rice and meat are evenly coated with the seasonings.
  • Stir in 1 tbsp of the oil and half a cup of hot water and set the filling aside.
  • In the meantime, remove the stem from each cabbage leaf and cut the larger leaves in half.
  • Layer a tablespoon of the filling over each cabbage leaf and roll it into a log.
  • Place a few cabbage leaves on the bottom of a pot and start layering the cabbage rolls. Make sure the tucked ends of the cabbage rolls point towards the bottom of the pot.
  • Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and a cup of the brine to the pot, then press down the cabbage rolls with a plate. Fill the pot with enough water so the cabbage rolls are barely submerged.
  • Simmer the cabbage rolls under a closed lid for about an hour.
  • Serve warm.


  • Run the sauerkraut leaves under cold water and drain them if they're too salty.
  • Make the cabbage rolls a day ahead of time for a deeper flavor.

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Calories: 56kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 0.5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 95mg | Potassium: 66mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 0.3g | Vitamin A: 59IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 8mg | Iron: 0.3mg

I do my best to provide you with the nutritional information for recipes but I'm not a certified nutritionist. The nutritional information provided should only be treated as an estimate since it will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.

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Traditional Bulgarian Sarma Recipe (Cabbage Rolls)

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