RECIPE: Plant-Based Cabbage Rolls (Sarma)

Recipe developed and written by Dietetics student Una Bach. 

Growing up in my Serbian-Bosnian household, New Years Day has always been my favourite day of the year. In Serbia, Bosnia and other Balkan countries, people take New Years very seriously. Balkan people usually go out in town to celebrate the countdown on New Years Eve, and then spend the first day of the New Year at home enjoying a huge lunch with family. One of the main dishes that is usually eaten on New Year’s Day is Sarma. Balkan Sarma are sour (fermented) cabbage rolls that are usually stuffed with ground beef and rice. My mother’s Sarma is the one thing that I look forward to most on New Year’s Day. 

However, in recent years my family and I have been trying to eat less meat and incorporate more plant-based proteins for the health benefits and to decrease our carbon footprint. This has been challenging for my family, as most Balkan dishes are very meat-heavy, such as my beloved Sarma. This year, my mother and I decided to create a plant-based Sarma recipe for the 2024 New Year. We decided to substitute the ground beef filling with Cannellini beans, a type of bean used in many vegetarian Balkan dishes. We also added vegetables to increase the dish’s nutritional value. My family and I were amazed with the results. I think that this plant-based Sarma might be my new favourite New Year’s dish!

cabbage rolls in the bottom of a slow cooker

Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls (Sarma) Recipe

Una Bach, Dietetics Student
A plant-based Cabbage Rolls (Sarma) recipe. We substituted the traditional ground beef filling with Cannellini beans and added more vegetables to increase the dish’s nutritional value.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 8 hours 40 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mediterranean
Servings 5 servings
Calories 445 kcal


  • 1 Slow Cooker
  • 1 large, deep skillet
  • 1 medium saucepan


  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry white cannellini beans
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 stalks of celery finely chopped
  • 3 medium carrots finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion finely chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 2 tbsp of finely chopped parsley
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp Vegeta seasoning *
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup sunflower oil
  • 1000 mL vegetable broth
  • 1 head of sour fermented cabbage **


Sarma Filling:

  • Rinse the cannellini beans. Add the beans to a medium sized saucepan and pour in 3 cups of water. Bring the water and beans to a boil, let it boil for 10 minutes. Strain the beans.
  • Finely chop the celery, carrots and onion.
  • Heat a large, deep skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the sunflower oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion and saute for 5 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped celery, carrots, and crushed garlic and saute for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the rice, the cannellini beans, Vegeta seasoning, pepper, salt, smoked paprika, chopped parsley and let it cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
    cabbage roll filling cooking over a large skillet topped with chopped parsley
  • Set the filling aside, and allow it to cool down for 10-15 minutes.

Making the Sarma:

  • Remove 20 outermost layers from the head of sour cabbage.
  • To make the cabbage roll, place 2 tbsp of the filling in the middle of one cabbage leaf. Starting at the stem of the leaf, roll the cabbage leaf tightly, tucking the sides of the leaf on top of the filling. Make 20 cabbage rolls.
    spoon of filling including carrots, white beans and celery in a cabbage leaf
  • Remove 3-4 more layers from the head of the sour cabbage and line the bottom of the slow cooker with these layers. Place the cabbage rolls in the slow cooker with the seams of the rolls facing down.
  • Pour vegetable broth over the cabbage rolls in the slow cooker, enough to cover the cabbage rolls entirely.
    wrapped cabbage rolls covered in broth inside a slow cooker
  • Cook on low heat for 8 hours.
  • Serve the cabbage rolls hot on a plate and enjoy!


*You can find Vegeta at The Canadian Superstore or Walmart. Alternatively you could substitute it with ½ tbsp garlic powder, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper
**You can find heads of sour (fermented) cabbage at Save On Foods and other grocery stores. Or you could make your own fermented cabbage at home, which is the authentic way of making Sarma. Here is a recipe for Balkan-Style Fermented Cabbage
Keyword dairy free, egg free, high fiber, nut free, soy free, vegetarian

Elevate Your Health Journey with Expert Insights!

  • 🥗 Get personalized nutrition tips straight to your inbox.
  • 📚 Stay updated on the latest research in diet and health.
  • 🏋️‍♀️ Unlock exclusive content on sports nutrition, gut health, and more.
  • 🍎 Receive delicious and healthy recipes curated by our certified dietitians.
  • 📅 Be the first to know about our upcoming webinars, workshops, and special promotions.
Reach out.