• 3-4 tbsp oil (or oil with butter, or lard)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 600 grams ground beef (or mix of beef and pork)
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp dried savory
  • allspice powdered, to taste
  • salt
  • 1 jar sauerkraut leaves (pickled cabbage)
  • 1 cup warm water

One of the many cabbage recipes typical to Bulgarian cuisine are sarmi filled with ground meat. Bulgarians often prefer this alternative to the vegetarian sarmi recipe, as this one is probably more authentic to their carnivore tradition than their rice-filled counterpart. The leaves from a head of kiselo zele, or pickled cabbage, are rolled up with tasty fresh ground meat, very close to the cabbage rolls as we know them.

Only difference here is the unusual spices that are favored in Bulgarian cuisine: savory, a herb that is present everywhere in Bulgarian cuisine , and allspice, a Jamaican pepper that has made its way into traditional Bulgarian dishes as a crucial meat seasoning.


  1. Heat the oil, or the combination of oil and butter, over medium heat in a large frying pan. Alternatively, you can use lard for a more distinct taste. Add the crushed garlic and fry for about 1 minute, without burning it.
  2. Add the onion and fry for 2-3 extra minutes, until it becomes tender. Then add the finely chopped carrots and red pepper and simmer until they become tender.
  3. Stir in the ground meat making sure to break it up well in little pieces. If you choose to use beef only, your finished mix will be dryer, and if you choose to add some ground pork it will be richer but fatter. Fry the meat until it dries out in the pan and separates like little beads.
  4. Now stir in the spices, starting by the paprika and the black pepper, then the savory and some powdered allspice to your taste. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and mix well to cover all the meat in the spices.
  5. You can now make the sarmi. Take each leaf of pickled cabbage and put 1 tbsp of the meat mixture in the middle of the leaf. Fold in the sides of the leaf towards the middle, over the meat, and then roll it up into a tight roll.
  6. Place the cabbage rolls close together in a baking dish or if preferred in an ovenproof pan with a cover.
  7. Pour the cup of warm water into the empty frying pan used for the meat and heat it up to obtain a warm broth. Once the baking dish is full with rolled-up sarmi, pour the hot broth over them to soak them.
  8. Heat the oven at 200°C (400°F). If you chose to use a baking dish cover the top of it with aluminum foil, if it is a pan cover it tight with its cover. Bake in the oven for 1 and a half hour. The sarmi should be tender inside. Then, if desired, you can remove the cover and broil them until golden brown.

Serve the sarmi warm, garnished with chopped fresh herbs such as dill or parsley and freshly ground black pepper. If you prefer, eat it like a real Bulgarian with bites in a fresh garlic clove or a fresh hot pepper, if not sprinkle some dry chili for some added spice.

Crusty bread is essential with this recipe, and don’t hesitate to soak in the juice in your plate. It is succulent!