• 4 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • salt
  • 1 jar sauerkraut leaves (pickled cabbage)
  • lukewarm water

Zele, or cabbage, is a favorite food for Bulgarians. One of the many ways Bulgarians prepare cabbage is by pickling a whole heads in a large container full of brine that they leave outside in the cold winter months to macerate for a few weeks.  This results in an unique tasting sauerkraut, that doesn’t necessarily need to be cooked before eating. It can be enjoyed fresh in a simple salad.

In this recipe, the leaves of one head of pickled cabbage are used to make delicious vegetarian sarmi, also known under the name cabbage rolls.


  1. Heat the oil and the butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the chopped garlic and fry for about 1 minute, without burning it.
  2. Add the onions and fry for 2-3 extra minutes, until it becomes tender.
  3. Add the finely chopped carrots, cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes, until the carrots start sweating. Then, stir in the mushrooms.
  4. Rinse the rice under cold water. In the frying pan, stir in the rice with the onion and carrot mixture and fry for 1 minute while stirring.
  5. Add the paprika and black pepper with a pinch of salt and mix well.
  6. To make the sarmi, take each leaf of pickled cabbage and put 1 tbsp of the rice mixture in the middle of the leaf. Fold in the sides of the leaf towards the middle, over the rice filling. Then roll it up into a tight roll.
  7. Place the cabbage rolls close together in a baking dish. Once the dish is full, pour enough lukewarm water in it so that the cabbage rolls are soaked halfway.
  8. Heat the oven at 180°C (350°F). Place in the baking dish and bake for 1 and a half hour, until the water evaporates. The sarmi should be tender inside and golden brown on the outside.

Serve the sarmi warm, garnished with chopped fresh herbs such as dill or parsley and freshly ground black pepper. And why not sprinkled with a little bit of hot chili pepper or mild paprika.

Add a side of salad or Tarator. The taste of the sauerkraut is so dominating in this dish that Bulgarians will sometimes enjoy the vegetarian sarmi by simply accompanying them with bites of a fresh garlic clove or a fresh hot pepper.