Main Dish

Sour Cabbage Rolls (Arambasici)

Sunce Winery

1839 Olivet Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

Arambasici is a traditional dish served on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, originating from the town of Sinj. Unlike the more widespread dish known as sarma, there is no rice in arambasici, a specialty known for its spices and dried meat (jerky). This recipe was partially translated from Frane’s 92-year-old mother, Marja Franicevic, who still lives in the ancient fishing village of Sucuraj.

  • 1 pound ground beef chuck
  • 7 ounces ground pork (for non-pork eaters, use more beef)
  • 5.3 ounces dried ham (prosciutto), finely chopped
  • 3 cups jerky or dried, smoked meat (ham or bacon) (optional)
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 pinches sea salt, or to taste
  • 2 pinches freshly ground white pepper, or to taste
  • 2 pinches ground cinnamon
  • 3 small cloves, crushed
  • 3 pinches freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 to 6 tablespoons Sunce Dry Malvasia Bianca (optional)
  • 1 head pickled/sour cabbage, such as Kissel's brand, or try pickling your own (see below)
  • 4 tablespoons oilve oil
  • 1 to 2 cups jerky or dried, smoked meat (ham or bacon) (optional)
  • Ajvar (Serbian red pepper sauce) or tropical-style Mexican salsa for serving
In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, pork and jerky. Add the onion, garlic, salt, white pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, along with a spritz of wine, but don't make the mixture soggy. Mix thoroughly with your hands. 
To prepare the cabbage head, cut its root at the top and separate the leaves. 

Put 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture on each cabbage leaf and roll the leaf, starting from the root, to make arambasici. Roll the leaves well so they don't unroll during cooking. 

Cut the remaining cabbage into thin strips. 

In a large rectangle pot, pour in the olive oil and add the dried pork (ham or bacon). Place the arambasici tightly one next to each other. Place the cabbage strips over the arambasici, layering, if desired. Pour in just enough water to cover the cabbage rolls. Cook on low heat for 2 hours. Do not stir during cooking; just rotate the pot (left and right) a few times.

Using a slotted spoon, plate 2 or 3 cabbage rolls on each plate and serve with a dollop of ajvar.


  • 1 head green cabbage
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Very hot water, as needed
If you are ambitious and have 2 weeks of free time, you can sour your own cabbage head instead of purchasing already pickled cabbage. Whoaa, is it aromatic! Or you can use a shortcut (below this recipe) and just blanch fresh cabbage leaves.  Either way, the cabbage rolls are delicious.

For pickled cabbage: Select a tall ceramic container or barrel that barely fits the cabbage head. Clean the cabbage carefully and cut out the core so that the leaves do not come off with it. Sprinkle sea salt in the hole where the core was and put the cabbage in the container, then fill with very hot water. Press the cabbage down with a plate or a round board, and place a rock or other heavy object on top. Leave the container at room temperature (64° to 68°F) during the fermentation period, which takes about 15 days. 

For non-pickled (non-soured) cabbage: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Remove the large, damaged outer leaves from the cabbage and set aside. Cut out the core and carefully pull off the remaining leaves, keeping them whole and as undamaged as possible; reserve the small leaves for another use, such as making coleslaw. Blanch the cabbage leaves in the boiling water until pliable, about 5 minutes. Run the leaves under cool water, then lay them out so you can determine how many leaves you have. Next, carefully cut out the center vein from the leaves so they will be easier to roll up. Use the best-looking leaves to make the cabbage rolls.