Sarma — healthy comfort food to die for

maria milojković
Sarma is not aiming for the art of food presentation but your palate | © Vitaan26, Wikimedia Commons

This home cooking is Mediterranean AND Middle Eastern AND liked by everybody who has tried it.

Healthy Mom’s food

From Atkins diet to Mediterranean to “Eat everything in moderation“ seems that the notion of healthy eating changes every few years.

I would always choose local or food groups my ancestors were eating for centuries. So, here’s my dish that tastes like heaven — every tourist who has visited Serbia, Greece, or Turkey will confirm it. This home-cooked meal is something every Serb craves for. It is also festive, we eat it for the New Year’s Eve, even at the weddings. It is prepared with rice, ground beef (or nuts for vegetarians) and cabbage.

Sarma is a Turkish dish (Turkish word “sarmak“ means “to roll“). It originates from the former Ottoman Empire (13th c. — 1922) and is found in countries from the Middle East to Eastern Europe.

It is made of whole sour cabbage (cabbage heads covered with salted water in a barrel, pressed with a rock), well known for its impressive health benefits.

Sour cabbage contains:

- Vitamins B, C, and K

- Calcium and magnesium

- Antioxidants

- Dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper, and manganese

If uncooked, sour cabbage contains natural probiotics — live lactobacilli and other beneficial microbes which improve your gut and overall health.

German finely cut cabbage of similar properties is called Sauerkraut. Here are its other beneficial properties (see more about it on Wikipedia):

“The 23 October 2002 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported that Finnish researchers found the isothiocyanates produced in sauerkraut fermentation inhibit the growth of cancer cells in test tube and animal studies.”

Sarmas rolled in monk’s rhubarb | © Alanyadk, Pixabay

Sarma is a dish made of ground beef and rice, with a bit of bacon. The vegetarian type is with walnuts (instead of meat). The spring option is with monk’s rhubarb (instead of sour cabbage).

To make sarmas with cabbage and meat you need:

· 1 whole sour cabbage

· 600 grams of ground beef

· 3 cups of rice (white or brown)

· 1 chopped onion

· 1 chopped clove of garlic

· 100–200 grams of spareribs

· 100 grams of smoked bacon

· Spices: salt, ground black pepper, ground sweet pepper, vegetable spice

· Peppercorns, a few laurel leaves

How to make sarma stuffing

Fry the chopped onion until it gets translucent (for 5–10 minutes). Add ground beef. Fry it occasionally stirring it all until the pale red meat gets pinkish-grey. Add the spices — ground black pepper, half a teaspoon of vegetable spice, and a tablespoon of ground sweet pepper. Leave it for a few minutes to simmer and take it off the hotplate.

Add 2 cups of cleaned and washed white rice. If you are putting brown rice, boil it in water in a separate dish before adding.

Rolling sarmas

Take leaves off from cabbage one at a time. Cut the thick part of the leaf connecting it to the root. Put one leaf on your palm, add a tablespoon of stuffing in the middle of the root part. Roll it until the stuffing is completely covered, fold the ends of the leaf inside, and keep rolling it till the end.

Or like this if you can find the dolmades maker:

Elaine Petrakis making Greek dolmades

Putting sarmas in the pot

Put a few unused cabbage leaves at the bottom, then sprinkle cut bacon, the cut garlic clove, and laurel over them. Then tuck all sarma rolls in. Pour cold water over them and put on the hotplate. Rice will soak up all the water, so add several glasses of lukewarm water during the process of cooking. Leave sarmas to simmer for at least 4–5 hours, and go watch TV or blog. The longer they cook, the tastier they are. The best sarmas are made in traditional pottery.

When cooked, serve them with yogurt or mayonnaise (not healthy but to die for!), and have a glass of good red or white wine.

Bon appétit!

This post was inspired by Roger Keyserling— if an IT guy can write a recipe, so can a Belgrade mama 😉

Try a sarma, that’s my only CTA ;)

maria milojković

Written by

Serbian translator, children’s author, content marketer, twin mom, MA - posts about life and writing; find me at

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