Spicy sour cabbage rolls

We’re still in the heart of winter. With this amount of snow around me, I feel like I’m dreaming!

We’re still in the heart of winter. With this amount of snow around me, I feel like I’m dreaming! The cold weather has been a very pleasant after-Christmas surprise when everything and everyone gets in a more dull and gloomy mood. Our Christmas tree, all lights and decorations are already stored away making our house look a bit empty and bigger every time!



Snow feels like the perfect gift, awaking a very cheerful, almost childlike mood in all of us. Everything is dressed in white, so shiny and bright! Just perfect! The low temperatures are just ideal to preserve this beautiful white veil.

We went for a walk in the woods, the white god’s ultimate kingdom! The snow was half a meter high, everything was sparkling and peaceful. You could only hear the crunching sound of our steps on the fresh snow, a sound so invigorating that almost feels like meditation music! Only the trees seemed to be having a hard time, bending from the weight of the snow. They were so overladen that some of their branches had already broken.



The cold works up an appetite and that’s not just my opinion, it’s the truth! We’re craving something warm and spicy, something that will satisfy our taste buds but will also make the perfect match with some divine red wine. In such occasions, I have an ace up my sleeve; the Serbian kitchen that always stands me in good stead whenever I need it!


I found some delicious sour cabbage. In Serbia, sour cabbage is considered a necessity, an absolute must! Since winters are heavier there, access to fresh fruits and vegetables used to be difficult. That’s how they started using sour cabbage, delicious food that can be cooked in various ways. It’s also a tradition to make homemade sour cabbage. I still remember numerous conversations about someone’s flavoursome homemade sour cabbage! It is a serious tradition and a question of honour! I tried to make some myself once, but it was a complete failure!


Today I’m making spicy sour cabbage rolls, a Serbian dish also known as Sarma. I owe this recipe to my Serbian origin. It’s a very flavourful dish and a must in our house, beloved by us and many of our friends. My mother often stores some of it in the freezer, just in case of an "emergency"! You just need to put it in the oven for about an hour and it’ll taste like it's freshly cooked!


The difference between these rolls and the classic Greek ones is that in this recipe we add browned chopped bacon or sausage, or a combination of both! Any smoked meat is also a great choice! Another difference is that we use chili peppers that definitely spice up the flavour. In my opinion, the addition of smoked paprika powder is what makes the dish really stand out. Important detail! Sour cabbage needs some preparation. Given the fact that it’s quite salty, we need to buy it from the previous day and desalinate it.


I know that this dish is a bit heavy and high in calories, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re on a diet, but it’s just perfect for a cold day like today! We will gather around the fireplace with some friends and this delicious spicy dish, some fine red wine and this beautiful view of the snowy scenery will be the protagonists of the evening!





1 quite big sour cabbage

350gr  mixed minced meat (beef and pork)

1 cup chopped bacon or 1 cup chopped sausage or a combination of both

2 chopped garlic cloves

1 chopped medium onion

1 chopped medium hot chili pepper

½ cup rice

Salt, pepper

½ bunch of parsley chopped

2-3 dry bay leaves

½ litre of water or more if needed

1 beef cube or 1 herb cube


1. The previous day, buy the cabbage and cut it in half. Remove its stem and separate each part in whole leaves. Place the leaves in a big bowl of water to desalinate them. Do the same with all of your cabbage. Replace the water 2-3 times before cooking to remove the excess of salt. Keep the centre of the cabbage to use it in a salad after it’s desalinated.

2. In a deep pan, brown the onion, the chili pepper and the garlic. Add the minced meat, the chopped bacon or sausage and the rice. Give them time so that the flavours are well mixed. Add salt (with caution because the cabbage and the bacon are already salty enough), pepper, smoked paprika and the chopped parsley.

3. Take a leaf, remove any hard parts and fill with a tablespoon of the filling that you’ve made. Wrap it carefully creating the smallest roll possible. Place it on the bottom of the pot that you’ve previously covered with thicker cabbage leaves. Repeat until you’ve run out of tender leaves and filling. Most of the times one cabbage is enough for about 20 rolls.

4. Preheat the oven to 190C. Cover the rolls with a plate. Heat ½ litre of water with a beef cube or a herb cube and pour over the rolls until they’re all covered. Add some water if necessary. Cover your baking dish and put it in the oven for about an hour. We don’t want the rolls to be dry so add some extra sauce if needed. Lastly, uncover the baking dish and cook for another 15 minutes until your rolls get a light golden-brown colour. Let it rest for a few minutes and serve it while it’s still quite warm.