What tourist brochures fail to mention when advertising the many advantages of Lebanon is that this is the place where self-expression rules.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the road.
Lebanese drivers favor honking as their favorite method of self-expression; to be awakened at 3:00AM by a honking contest (when your half-conscious mind is wondering “surely the traffic can’t be bad at this hour?”) is not infrequent for example.
Changing the topic, this is Lebanese comfort food par excellence. Silky and so tender that they dissolve in the mouth, these cabbage rolls will make you forget traffic, honking and other urban annoyances.
The cabbage leaves need to be tender, the rice used in the stuffing needs to be medium-grain rice and the seasoning needs to permeate the dish to avoid blandness.
Stuffed with a meat and rice combo or a coarse-grain bulgur and split chick-peas for a vegan version.
INGREDIENTS: 6 to 8 servings
- 1 green cabbage, preferably with tender leaves
- 1 pound of ground meat (fatty OK)
- 1 large onion
- 1 cup of rice (sushi, Egyptian, Italian or Turkish, or any medium-grain)
- Spices: 1 head of garlic, 1/4 cup of dried mint, 1 cup of lemon juice, 1 cup of olive oil.
- Spices for the meat: 1 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp of white pepper
- 4 cups of meat or chicken stock or water
- Blanch the cabbage leaves in salted boiling water for several minutes until very tender. Drain in a colander and then cut them in 5 inch squares. Reserve the thick stalks.
- Soak the rice for 15 minutes in water, drain and mix with the ground meat, salt and white pepper.
- Chop the onion fine and fry gently in olive oil till softened; mash 8 cloves of garlic with some salt in a mortar coarsely and add to the chopped onion. Add the dried mint and fry this pesto for a few seconds until fragrant. Transfer to the bottom of the pot in which the cabbage leaves will cook; top with the cabbage stalks spreading them to cover the bottom of the pan.
- Flatten each cabbage square and place a generous tablespoon of stuffing on the edge of it; roll up like a cigar, leaving the ends open. Try not to place stuffing towards the ends as the stuffing will expand during cooking.
- Place the cabbage cigars one by one in the pot; place a small plate on top of the cigars to hold them in place if desired. Place the remaining garlic cloves (peeled but whole) in-between the cabbage rolls. Add the meat stock, the lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil as well. Cook for about one hour over low heat at a gentle simmer until the stuffing is thoroughly cooked and the leaves are extra tender. Serve warm.
NOTE: In the olden days, fat was added to the meat for extra flavor and moisture; for expediency, I would simply use a ground meat at 85%.