Cabbage leaves are a great alternative to pastry and can be bought in jars, ready to go. Filled with pork, beef and vegetables, the sarma can be rolled just like a dolmade. While made all year round by some willing cooks, this Serbian dish is traditionally served at special occasions like Slava.






Skill level

Average: 3.8 (27 votes)


  • 1.4 kg cabbage leaves (see Note), drained, rinsed 
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) vegetable oil 
  • 2 onions, finely chopped 
  • ½ red capsicum, grated 
  • ½ carrot, grated 
  • 1 celery stalk, grated 
  • ½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed 
  • 1.5 kg minced pork 
  • 350 g minced beef 
  • 2 tsp powdered vegetable stock 
  • 1 tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika (see Note) 
  • 400 g speck (see Note), half finely chopped with rind removed, half roughly chopped with rind 
  • ⅓ cup (60 g) long-grain rice 
  • 400 g smoked pork ribs (see Note), cut into 3 cm pieces 
  • 90 g (⅓ cup) tomato paste

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Drink match 2007 Beckett’s Flat Cabernet Merlot ($22) or 2007 Masi Campofiorin ($26).

Soak cabbage leaves in water until needed.

Heat oil in a large pan over medium–high heat. Cook onions, stirring, for 5 minutes or until golden. Add vegetables and cook for 2 minutes, then stir in parsley and garlic. Increase heat to high and add mince, stock and paprika. Stir for 3 minutes, breaking up mince with a wooden spoon until almost cooked. Stir in finely chopped speck and rice. Remove from heat and season with pepper.

Drain cabbage leaves. Reserve 16 of the largest leaves and cut out thick central stems. Set remaining leaves aside. Place 1 large leaf on a board and place ⅔ cup mince mixture at one end. Roll tightly to enclose filling, tucking in sides of leaf as you go. Place, seam-side down, on a plate. Repeat with remaining large leaves and mince mixture to make 16 cabbage rolls.

Place half the remaining leaves in a large, stainless-steel steamer set in a saucepan and top with cabbage rolls, seam-side down. Add ribs and remaining speck. Dissolve tomato paste in 2 litre hot water and pour gently over rolls. Cover with remaining leaves and weigh down with a large plate. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to low–medium and simmer, covered, for 1½ hours for flavours to develop.

Carefully remove the plate and discard loose cabbage leaves. Serve cabbage rolls with smoked pork ribs, speck and pan juices.


• Cabbage leaves are sold in vacuum-packed bags or large jars at selected delis. 
• Hungarian paprika and smoked ribs are from selected delis and continental food shops.
• Speck is German-style smoked bacon from selected delis and butchers.


Photography by Alan Benson.

As seen in Feast magazine, October 2011, Issue 2. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.