This vegan sarma recipe makes delicious vegan cabbage rolls. Sarma is a popular dish in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, as well as on both sides of the Serbian-Bulgarian border.
If you like cabbage rolls, you’ll adore this recipe for Macedonian Cabbage Rolls (Sarma).
What is Sarma?
While most other Balkan meat-filled cabbage rolls are made with ground beef, hog, lamb, or veal, this one is made with vegetables, spices and rice. It’s a hearty, carb-heavy dish that’ll fill you up quickly.
This version of the cabbage roll is less tomato-centered. This dish doesn’t use tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes or strained tomatoes; instead, it uses tomato paste plus a couple of fresh chopped tomatoes to give the rice filling some acidity. However, garlic, paprika, lemon pepper, olive oil, and herbs provide a lot of flavors.
Also, there is a walnut inserted into each roll, giving this old-fashioned delicacy a special touch. You can omit the walnut, but you should not. It provides taste as well as a delicate crunch.
Many traditional meals in the Balkans, Central Europe, the Middle East, and the South Caucasus include cabbage (and sometimes grape leaf) rolls.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that this meal is popular in many cultures and countries. This is the vegan Macedonian version, with a lot of paprika and not a lot of tomato, and it’s made using fermented cabbage leaves, although it’s not required.
Sarma is a unique recipe that says, “I love you!” No, I’m not kidding when I say that making these little bundles of delight takes a lot of time and work. But, like many kitchen undertakings, it’s also enjoyable and simple to do. This recipe is for you if you want to try your hand at making classic handmade cabbage rolls.
You’ll note that the Macedonian Sarma dish is vegetarian—it’s even vegan! This dish contains no animal ingredients of any type, most likely because it was created during a time and place when abstaining from all animal products was the standard during Lent.
Sarma Recipe Ingredients
- 25 to 30 pickled (fermented) cabbage leaves, if you can’t find pickled cabbage leaves, use fresh cabbage instead
- 1 head of cabbage leaves separated (use these if you can’t find pickled cabbage leaves)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup / 30g chopped fresh parsley
- 2 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
- 2 cups / 400g long-grain white rice
- 1 cup / 200g halved walnut pieces
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika
- 2 cups / 480ml hot water or vegetable broth, you can also use chicken broth or beef broth
If you can’t obtain fermented cabbage but still want to make cabbage rolls, “sour” the cabbage by cooking it in water with a cup of vinegar and 1/4 cup of salt. You want the flavor to be “pickled.”
Prepare The Oven, Baking Dish, And Cabbage
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. After that, gently butter a big baking dish (9×13) or a braiser. Place it aside. Heat a big saucepan of salted water over high heat if using a head of fresh cabbage.
When the water is boiling, add the cabbage leaves and simmer for 4 minutes. Drain and set aside once they’ve become pliable. Cooking them for too long can turn them mushy. This is why I love using pickled cabbage leaves: you don’t have to worry about the leaves cooking because they’re already malleable.
Prepare The Filling Mix
In a big skillet, heat a good quantity of oil. Cook for a few minutes with the onions before adding the garlic and parsley. After 30 seconds of cooking to release the scent, add the tomatoes and spices.
Cook for approximately 3 minutes, stirring often. Cook for another minute after adding the uncooked rice to the filling mixture. Remove the filling from the heat.
Roll the Sarma
Now, take a peek at your cabbage leaves. Cut off the elevated section of the vein on each leaf with a tiny knife, such as a paring knife. It will be easier to roll the sarma if this component is removed. Place a heaping dollop of filling on one side of one cabbage leaf in your hand.
Don’t overstuff because you won’t be able to roll it up correctly. Add one walnut half to the contents and wrap up the cabbage-like a burrito, tucking in the edges. In your baking dish or braiser, place each roll seam-side down.
Season the rolls and pour the sauce over them
Season the cabbage rolls generously with salt and pepper, then lay them aside while you prepare the sauce.
In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic for about 15 seconds to prepare the sauce. Stir in the paprika and then the boiling water. Bring this mixture to a boil, then immediately pour it over the cabbage rolls.
Wrap foil around your baking dish (or a lid, if it has an oven-proof lid). Cover the rolls and bake for 45 minutes. Cover them and bake for another 15 minutes.
Check one of the rolls after that time has passed to determine if the rice is mushy and cooked thoroughly. If not, return the dish to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
Serve And Enjoy
Serve your cabbage rolls with your favorite sides after the rice is soft.
I recommend serving your Macedonian cabbage rolls with a textural contrast side dish or two. Anything crunchy or crispy goes well with cabbage rolls since they are warm, soft, and full of rice.
The fresh, cool, and creamy Radish and Cucumber Salad with Garlic-Yogurt Dressing is the perfect accompaniment to hot, steaming rice cabbage rolls.
Chunks of crunchy, colorful veggies and protein-rich chickpeas combine for a satisfying salad to complement the sarma! The classic vegetarian Chickpea Salad will appeal to you with its tangy lemon dressing and creamy feta cheese.
Also, the combination of cabbage and potatoes can’t be beaten. With a golden-brown, crispy texture, Crispy Air Fryer Potatoes with Herb Butter is a great accompaniment to cabbage rolls.
- Looking for more recipes? Check these Balkan food guides:
- Burek recipe
- Palacinke recipe
- Punjene paprike
- Balkan pita
- Ajvar recipe
- Dolma recipe
- Pljeskavica recipe
- Piftija Recipe
- Shopska salad recipe
- Krempita recipe
- Tavce gravce
- Struklji recipe
- Kifle recipe
- Moussaka recipe
- Tarator recipe
- Trilece recipe
- Qifqi recipe
- Kajmak recipe
- Banitsa recipe
- Sach recipe
- Sarma recipe
- rafioli recipe
- gyro recipe
- Krofne recipe
- And our massive country guides:
- Finally, our Curated Balkan food guide:
Jadranka Y. and Pero K. Foodies, lovers. Jadranka is the queen of pastries and sweets, whereas Pero is the prince of meat and potatoes.
They met at 15, while working in the kitchen of a famous chef here in the Balkans, and have been together ever since.
But they still love each other and are faithful till death or until one messes up their dish. Which happens quite often if you ask anyone of them.
Love is a battlefield and Jadranka and Pero decide who wins, in the kitchen.