Cabbage rolls the Balkan legend! Greek “Lahanodolmades” or Sarma

Have you ever visited Balkan countries during the winter holidays? If yes, chances are you’ve been offered to eat “Sarma”. Most probably, multiple times per day. This traditional comfort food made with minced meat wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves and cooked with bacon has a status of superpower food.

There is a certain belief that eating sarma makes men more manly, while women become more beautiful. Some say it has the power of reversing a hangover. Sarma is also often mentioned in songs and stories. It can be used as a reason to start or end the relationship. Quite a dramatic dish, I would say.

Since in Greece many people don’t even know what sauerkraut or pickled cabbage is, a similar version is prepared with fresh cabbage leaves called Lahanodolmades. Let’s be honest, pickled cabbage takes some getting used to when it comes to smell during cooking.

Besides that, Greeks make it with a different sauce – our beloved Avgolemono. This sauce is made with lemon, eggs and spices (quite Keto friendly). It requires some skills to have a creamy and smooth consistency.

Since I am currently residing in Mostar, (capital of Herzegovina) the town which combines a sort of Mediterranean and continental European cuisine, I decided to make my Greek Keto version for winter holidays. Of course, being a Keto person, I wisely borrowed some good stuff from the Balkan version. They use smoked bacon and red paprika powder.

But what about rice in cabbage rolls?

Unfortunately for Keto people, both Greek and northern Balkan versions contain rice. I am not sure how this became popular, but I am guessing that it happened after the Second World War when rice became the main “filling” agent.

However, a quest to make Lahanodolmades without rice was tempting enough. So, I decided to use sesame seeds instead of rice. Why not? They look almost similar to rice and they will not get overcooked. Furthermore, they will not destroy my Keto macronutrient ratio. Ready for the wrapped adventure? Here’s the recipe:

Cabbage rolls the Balkan legend! Greek

Cabbage rolls the Balkan legend! Greek “Lahanodolmades” or Sarma

Recipe by Apollonas Kapsalis
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Prep time


Cooking time








  • 1 medium cabbage

  • 3-litres (100 fl. oz) water

  • 400 ml (13.5 fl. oz) apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tbsp sea salt

  • Filling
  • 700g (25 oz) minced meat (veal, beef or lamb)

  • 1 cup sesame seeds

  • 2 tbsp garlic powder

  • 1/2 tbsp black pepper

  • 1 tbsp oregano

  • 1 tbsp dried parsley

  • 1 tbsp sea salt

  • 1 tbsp red sweet paprika powder

  • Additional
  • 100g (3.5 oz) smoked beef (sliced)

  • Sauce
  • 2-litres (67 fl. oz) water

  • 2 large pasture-raised eggs

  • Juice of 1 whole lemon

  • 1 tsp sea salt

  • 1 tsp dill

  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley


  • Place the whole cabbage in a large pot and cover it with water. Add vinegar, salt and cook it for at least 1 hour over medium heat.
  • When the leaves are soft and you can easily remove them, the cabbage is ready.
  • Mix the meat with all the spices and the sesame seeds.
  • Separate as many cabbage leaves as possible.
  • Place a tablespoon of meat mixture near the thicker end of each cabbage leaf (remove the thick cabbage veins). Roll it up, tuck in the sides.
  • Place the beef bacon slices and chopped inner part of cabbage in the bottom of a large pot. Now start placing the rolls around the edges of the pot.
  • When you use all the cabbage leaves, add cold water so that it covers the rolls.
  • Cook it for 90 minutes on medium heat.
  • Beat the eggs with salt, dill and slowly add lemon juice.
    Take some of the hot water out of the pot and slowly add it to the egg mixture. Be careful, slowly and always keep mixing.
  • Now add the egg and lemon mixture to the pot and gently mix. Try not to move the rolls. In the end, add freshly chopped parsley leaves.


  • Try to eat only two rolls with some sauce. This dish is so tasty that you will want to eat at least 4 of them. In that case, there’s no place for anything else in your meal. Enjoy and experiment with your spice mixture. I would recommend some thyme or even cinnamon in the meat.

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