Cabbage rolls (Mehshi malfouf)

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

METHOD:

  1. 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.
  2. Soak the rice for 15 minutes in water, drain and mix with the ground meat, salt and white pepper.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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%.

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39 Comments

  1. Posted December 29, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    A scrumptious dish! So enjoyable.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Posted December 29, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    These sound tasty. I have made cabbage rolls but the spices here are quite different. Very intriguing.

  3. Posted December 29, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Hmmm, it’s a yummi recipe and it resembles a Romanian dish (sarmalute), but it is usually made from pickled cabbage and served with polenta and sour cream. And the old recipes mention that they are to be two times boiled, the second time in wine. A most do, for sure! :)

  4. Posted December 29, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    What a great recipe! My husband will love this, I already bookmarked it. I have all the ingredients except the cabbage…on my way to get that now. I was going to have quiche tonight, but this sounds better! Thanks for sharing all your wonderful recipes!
    Have a Happy New Year!

  5. Posted December 29, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Every year when we leave town for the holidays (to the Alabama Gulf Coast), I make sure that a head of cabbage is in the fridge. I can count of cabbage to stay green for a week until we get back. I’m going to make the vegan version of this dish for New Year’s day, when we’re returning home. Happy New Year Joumana! It will be a Happy New Year for me too because I’m excited to see what recipes you’ll bring in 2012.

    Alaiyo

  6. Posted December 29, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Love stuffed cabbage. We make it vegetarian at home, sometimes with rice and spices and sometimes with soy protein. The lemon juice ads a tad of acidity to the dish which pop. Beautiful recipe ;)

  7. Posted December 29, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    This looks delicious! I love the idea of rolling it up in cabbage leaves.

  8. Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Ils sont trop choux on dirait des p’tits cigares…aux mille saveurs, bisous et passe de bonnes fêtes

  9. Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Un beau plat j’ai dèja tester,très bonne soirée.

  10. Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I love stuffed cabbage rolls!!
    Yours look perfect!
    Happy new year!

  11. Posted December 29, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    A dish I would love! I wish my husband shared the same taste buds as me :)

  12. Posted December 29, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Those are wonderful! I don’t think I could stop eating these. Cabbage is so underrated. A honking contest at 3am is NOT cool.

  13. samir
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    these look exquisite!!!! I love how they melt in ur mouth ..silky as you call it but so zesty with the lemon and mint,, ..when made properly this is absoluely one of my faves..sadly its hard to find good cabbage for stuffing back in the states. not pliable, rubbery, have kinda of given up on it …. we add a dsh of allspice/cinnamon in the filling..and much less nana, not sure if we add olive oil to the meat one..only the vegan one….Happy new year!! thank you for this amazing blog..

  14. Joumana
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    @Samir: I have had the same experience with cabbage in the US and was going to suggest trying Asian cabbages or even lettuce leaves (with a shorter cooking time!); what do you think? Allspice and cinnamon in the filling is also traditional I believe. Happy New Year too and thanks for your pertinent questions and suggestions!

  15. Posted December 29, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I love stuffed cabbage leaves and this version sounds wonderful! Will be trying this soon. I was a little surprised that there was not more spices in the stuffing- does Lebanese cuisine use much of the traditional middle eastern spices? Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  16. Joumana
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    @Sarah: You can use the allspice/cinnamon pair which is used in every stuffing of veggies, as well as salt and white or black pepper. Here the mint and garlic and lemon provide the most flavor to the dish so the other spices become subdued.

  17. Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    Funny post! And oooh these stuffed cabbage leaves look scrumptious! My mom made the Russian version when I was growing up and I hated it – hers were just plain yucky! But yours look so wonderful and delicious – and, yes, silky! I would gladly try one or two! Wishing you, Joumana, and your family a wonderful Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2012! xo

  18. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I love the thin rolls… so used to the big puffy ones. This gives a nice proportion of meat to cabbage and as always, lovely spicing… delicate and delicious.
    Happy New Year!

  19. Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    adore cabbage rolls used to make them with Serbian friends when I lived in Cleveland :_)

  20. Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    My mother used to make something very similar to this and would make me meatless versions with tomatoes and mushrooms :) These look wonderful!
    Wishing you a beautiful 2012 Joumana

  21. Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing to me that so many cultures have variations of this meat and rice stuffed cabbage dish. And I love them all! My husband’s grandmother makes a lovely, very meaty version. My aunt makes a totally different recipe, with dried fruit for a sweet and sour flavor. I can’t wait to try your recipe with lemon and mint! Yum!

  22. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    These rolls look great! Happy new year to you and your family :-)

  23. Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    Joumana these are delicious. I love to eat them with yogurt!! yum yum

  24. Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I love how every culture has some form of cabbage roll. There is a traditional recipe here in Milan and I have eaten delicious ones in Germany but really didn’t think it was a tradition in the Middle East. I love them in any form, your look delicious.

  25. s
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    hi joumana, i’d love to try this- which asian cabbage do you think we should use? i love all these stuffed vegetables you make in Lebanon- i would love to make stuffed zucchini, too, have you blogged about it? i’ll just check with your search button. happy new year, dear Joumana. x s

  26. Joumana
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    @Dear Shayma, in my experience cabbages in Europe and the US are of a different, tougher variety and it is difficult to get that “meltingly tender” morsel; I would definitely experiment with savoy or even lettuce (of course I would blanch it just seconds as opposed to minutes! )
    I have posted on stuffed zucchini, but will most likely update it since it is a dish that is cooked often in Beirut (with tiny sweet zucchini).
    http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2009/03/stuffed-zucchini-in-tomato-sauce-koossa-mehche-banadoora/

  27. Posted January 6, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    My Nonie used to make these, brings back some wonderful memories!! Love your blog!!

  28. s
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    thanks so much, Joumana x

  29. Dolly doll
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Grandioses que tous vos plats ma Joumana !!! 2atouliyine !!

  30. Posted December 2, 2012 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I made the vegan version of this today, with rice, bulgur and chickpeas, and it turned out delicious. Thank you, again, for helping me with yet another meal :) However, i found out that my husband is not a big fan of cabbage (although he did finish his plate!) Is there something else you can suggest instead of the cabbage, besides grape leaves? I myself absolutely loved it. I’ll have to make it again just for myself! :)

  31. Joumana
    Posted December 2, 2012 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    @Louma: Swiss chard leaves make the BEST rolls!
    http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2012/09/stuffed-chard-leaves-vegan/
    Also, you can use the stalks for a delicious hummus (dip)
    http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2012/09/chard-stalks-hummus-mtabbal-dulu3-el-selek/

    Take care, Joumana

  32. Wadih
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    We Lebanese in the Caribbean have modified this recipe. Maybe because my people came from a mountain village in Lebanon, they would fry beef or lamb bones for the bottom of the pot. They would then add the garlic, and other ingredients you mention (except the lemon juice) but also crushed tomatoes to the mixture. In addition, the meat filling was seasoned with a small amount allspice, and cinnamon, as well as that being added to the steam mixture. Because we adopted some Caribbean culinary habits, we also put a whole Scotch Bonnet or Habanero in the pot as well. We squeezed fresh lemon juice over the meshi just before eating.

  33. Wadih
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I left an interesting comment but noticed that it has been removed. is there a reason for this? I visit this site from time to time but will no longer do so as I am very confused by this action.

  34. Wadih
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Now I understand. Perhaps the process associated with leaving comments could be explained somewhere in the blog. That would avoid misunderstanding by people who visit, and leave comments. Thanks

  35. Joumana
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    @Wadih: Your version sounds fantastic!!

  36. Posted February 10, 2013 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    This was YUM! Such comfort food and it’s flavor brought back warm sweet memories of travels and friends.

  37. Liisa
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Your links on the same line as Ads by Google all go to Google ads instead of the link stated eg Lebanese Recipes goes to Google ads.

  38. Posted November 11, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I am happy I used your recipe. I have for years made this meal,
    My Mom and Dad were from Lebanon and this was always a
    popular dish. But over the years I became carless, making it badly by just tossing
    it together and it got so bad I quit. Your directions woke me up and after following them I am again enjoying wonderful feast of your stuffed cabbage. Meet Shuok rroun Joumana.

  39. Joumana
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    @Narmie: my pleasure! :)

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