Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

By Plakor Kovacevic


Vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls or Sarma are part of the traditional cuisine of many Central European countries, including Croatia. It’s customary to serve it for Christmas and New Year’s. Many aver that it tastes best the day after it’s cooked.

To cook this traditional meat dish in a vegetarian way seemed impossible. Smoked tofu and seitan (a protein-rich food made from wheat gluten, used as a meat substitute as it is chewy), played a decisive role - giving it a charming winter flavor, seemingly unattainable without meat. With mixed grains and appropriate spices, sarma is better tasting than the variation made with meat!

The biggest compliments that I get are from people who are non-vegetarians, who ask for more sarma, and then for the recipe. They give me disbelieving looks when I tell them that my version of sarma is a vegetarian one. They stare at each other with puzzled looks and rush to the store next day to buy the ingredients for the sarma, which they would serve in the holiday season to their non-vegetarian friends. So, these cabbage rolls have a big role in reshaping eating habits because they are impossible to resist.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

For Rolls

  • 1 sour cabbage head
  • ¼ of a kilo mixed grains: barley, rice and buckwheat
  • 1 head of red onion
  • 100 grams of smoked seitan
  • 100 grams of smoked tofu
  • Salt or vegeta, black pepper, oil

For Sauce

  • Oil
  • 1 big spoon of flour
  • Red pepper powder
  • Salt or vegeta
  • 1 glass of mashed tomatoes


  1. Chop an onion head into small pieces and sauté it in oil. Add washed grains and some salt and vegeta, if you like, and sprinkle a very little amount of water. Stir until it's half cooked.
  2. When it's finished, let it cool a bit and add smoked seitan and tofu, chopped in tiny pieces and add some black pepper as well. The stuffing is ready.
  3. Gently remove from the head of the cabbage all the leaves, which are whole and in a good condition, and with a knife, carefully thin out the areas which are fat and chunky. Cut out the rest of the cabbage into noodles and put them in the bottom of a bowl. Keep the bowl aside.


Making the rolls

  1. Put the stuffing on the lower part of each leaf and roll up the leaf towards its peak. Tuck in the empty parts on both sides of the leaf under the cabbage roll. This is how the stuffed cabbage rolls are made.
  2. Now pick them up carefully and place them in the bowl on top of the layer of the cabbage which has been cut into noodles. Take care the cabbage rolls do not come apart as the bottom of the rolls are just tucked in.


Preparing the Sauce

Prepare the sauce separately. The foundation for the sauce consists of oil, flour and sweet red pepper powder.

  1. Fry the flour gently in oil until it turns golden brown and add 1 spoon of red pepper powder at the end.
  2. Pour the water over the foundation of the sauce; add salt, vegeta and a glass of mashed tomatoes or tomato juice.
  3. When it boils, remove from the bowl and pour over the bowl with stuffed cabbage rolls.
  4. Don't cook longer than an hour. Serve hot with mashed potatoes or bread.