We love stuffed vegetables, dolmas in Turkish cuisine and I have a soft spot for this delicious stuffed cabbage leaves with bulgur, onions and ground meat, Bulgurlu Lahana Sarmasi, Antakya style (“Dolma” is the term used for stuffed vegetables, as in peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and “Sarma” is the term used for rolled leaves in Turkish cuisine). Bulgur is flavored here with the dried mint (the star spice here), cumin and red pepper flakes, along with onion and parsley. It makes a delicious filling even without the meat; so by all means omit the meat for a vegetarian version. I remember as a child so eagerly waiting for this delicious sarma to cook; mother would ask whether we would like to do a “quality check” of the rolls from the pot and we tuck in at that very minute, happy days. These rolls can easily be an all day snack for us.
Tip for separating the cabbage leaves; try to get a large cabbage with big, straight leaves. Trim the bottom root and place the cabbage as whole in a large pan with boiling water and simmer for 8 minutes. The leaves will start to peel off without breaking. Please save the hard stalk or the hard middle part of the cabbage leaves; they are delicious in Lahana Kapuska; cabbage cooked with rice, onions, ground meat and spices, a sort of deconstructed rolled cabbage leaves – my recipe link is here.
Wholesome grain bulgur is widely used in southern Turkish cuisine in mezzes, salads, stuffed vegetables and in bulgur pilaf. Cooked in lemony olive oil sauce, it makes a delicious pairing with cabbage here; all you need is some plain yoghurt aside to enjoy this delicious Bulgurlu Lahana Sarmasi. You can use (1 tbsp.) pomegranate molasses instead of lemon juice in the sauce if you’d like a sharper taste.
My roots go back to ancient Antioch, Antakya and I love sharing Antakya’s delicious, diverse cuisine, along with other healthy, wholesome Turkish recipes, all included at my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, Recipes from My Homeland. Signed copies available at this link, and now 20 % Off, if you’d like a copy. It is delivered worldwide including the US, Canada and Mexico, with lower delivery rates here. We also have this Ozlem’s Turkish Table apron available now, made in Turkey, with my hometown Antakya’s daphne leaves embroidered in the design, it can make a lovely gift for a foodie. You can order at this link.
I hope you enjoy our family favorite; Afiyet Olsun,
- 200 gr/ 7 oz. / 1 cup coarse bulgur
- 1 large cabbage (which yields about 20 large to medium cabbage leaves)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 225 gr/ 8 oz. ground (minced) beef or lamb
- Small bunch of parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 30 ml / 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 15 ml / 1 tbsp. dried mint
- 5 ml/ 1 tsp. cumin
- 5 ml/ 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- For the sauce:
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed with salt and finely chopped
- 15 ml / 1 tbsp. olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon (or 1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses)
- 500 ml / 1 pint / 2 cups of water
- 15 ml / 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- Dried mint and red pepper flakes to serve
- Plain yoghurt to serve
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.
- Trim the bottom root and place the cabbage as whole in the pan with boiling water and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
- Remove the cabbage and leave it to cool. Then take a sharp knife and cut the outer leaves from the main stalk. The rest of the leaves will start to peel off without breaking one by one. Peel off about 20 large to medium leaves for rolling and set them aside (Please save the hard stalk or the hard middle part of the cabbage leaves, that is too small or hard to roll; they are delicious in Lahana Kapuska; cabbage cooked with rice, onions, ground meat and spices, which I will also share in the coming weeks).
- For the filling; combine the bulgur, chopped onion, parsley, olive oil, dried mint, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper in a large bowl. Knead well with your hands for a few minutes. Stir in the ground meat and knead for another minute to combine well.
- With a sharp knife, carefully trim and make a V shape cut to remove the thickest part of the stalk from the base of each cabbage leaf. Place 1 to 1 ½ tablespoon of the filling (depending on the size of the leaf) in the middle of the leaf. Fold in the sides and then roll the leaf up tightly. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
- Place the rolled leaves tightly in a heavy pan with seam side down, do the second layer too and pack tightly.
- For the sauce, mix together the water, olive oil, lemon juice (or 1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses), tomato paste and chopped garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste. Pour this sauce over the rolled cabbage leaves (the water should just about to cover the top of the rolled cabbage leaves). Place a plate on top of the leaves to stop them unraveling during cooking.
- Cover the pan and cook on low heat over stove top or burner for 40 – 45 minutes, simmering gently.
- Once cabbage rolls are cooked, serve hot, decorated with dried mint and red pepper flakes. Plain yoghurt complements this delicious cabbage rolls with bulgur filling, bulgurlu lahana sarmasi, beautifully. Afiyet Olsun.
Özlem’ciğim, My mouth is watering just reading this recipe. What delicious comfort food for cold weather a good sarma is. We are big fans of cabbage dishes in winter and this one sounds terrific. I love your description of kapuska as a ‘deconstructed rolled cabbage leaves’. Very cute. Herkese selamlar ve sevgilerimizle, J xoxo
Jolee’cigim, merhaba, many thanks for your kind words. Growing up as a child, I could hardly wait for this cabbage sarma to cook, ever eager to do a ‘qaulity check” if it’s cooked or not!:) Really is a delicious, warming comfort food, also healthy. I am glad you enjoyed the “deconstructed rolled cabbage leaves” for kapuska, it really is and easier to make, we love it : ) Size de cok selam ve sevgiler, hope you enjoy making this sarma, Ozlem xoxo
Look forward to trying this. A couple of questions: is the bulgar raw or cooked when mixed with the other ingredients. And when you say low oven, about what temperature is that, in farenheit? Thank you!
Hello Dan, thank you for your comment; the bulgur is raw when mixed with other ingredients (it doesn’t take long bulgur to cook so no need to precook). This dish is cooked over the stove top, over low heat. You may start at medium heat to bring to boil and turn down to low and simmer. I hope you enjoy it, afiyet olsun, Ozlem
This dish is popular all over the Black Sea area. In Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Republic of Georgia and even into Albania. I enjoy it it immensely. Thanks for another slant of this delicious dish!
Merhaba Donald, many thanks for your note; I also have friends in Balkans enjoy a variety of this dish, always good to hear similarities and variations – hope you enjoy this version too!:)
Rolling the meat and vegetables in cabbage is such a healthy way to serve them. All the flavors shine in this roll. Great recipe Ozlem:) xxPeri
Many thanks dear Peri; a wholesome, delicious all in one pot meal; hope you and family enjoy it, my best wishes, Ozlem xx
These were great – I think they could do with a bit more chilli or red pepper flakes, but I do have them for breakfast 🙂
In case anybody reads this comment before going shopping, do buy the biggest cabbage you can – mine was medium sized to be generous and the dolma were more like cigars 🙂 Im sure they tasted much the same but would have looked nicer with bigger leaves so I could tuck in the sides.~The problem comes when you cut out the big stalk and effectively you have 2 small leaves left. Just get a really big one and use the middle for coleslaw 🙂
You are very welcome Rob, thank you so much for trying the recipe, so wonderful to get your feedback! You are right, a really large cabbage really helps -and I do miss those large ones in Turkey – the one I got from the UK was the largest I could get, still the leaves were relatively smaller compared to the Turkish ones. The bigger the leaves, the thicker the middle stalks so that needs a good cut and trim. Mind you, the mini ones were fantastic too, my children loved them! The middle heard bit is great for a coleslaw, fabulous idea! Many thanks for trying my recipes and your generous feedback, always appreciate it. Eline saglik and afiyet olsun, Ozlem
Merhaba, Özlem! I’m so glad found your site. I grew up with this dish as well, and make it myself (albeit the Asia Minor/Greek version); And as I am currently on a mission to learn about and cook as many authentic Turkish dishes as is possible, I will be making your version soon. It looks and sounds delicious! Bulgur is not something that I have eaten much of, so I’m looking forward to these. I will be looking forward to more recipes from you.
Kalimera dear Katerina, many thanks for your kind note; I truly enjoy hearing and discovering similarities and variations in our cuisines and it is always a joy to share. I do hope you enjoy bulgur; very wholesome with a delicious nutty taste; I hope you enjoy discovering Turkish cuisine and that recipes here would inspire. Best wishes, Ozlem
As the weather here is still in the mid 20sC I can’t claim that we need winter comfort food, but these sarma look mighty tempting.
Many thanks BB, enjoy the warm days in Bodrum – glad you liked the look of these sarma, sevgiler, Ozlem x