One of the best dishes to originate from Middle Eastern cuisine, this delicious and savory blend of rice, fresh herbs and tomatoes wrapped in a juicy cabbage leaf will leave everyone begging for more! This healthy dish is easily an all time favorite and comfort food for many people. While making it is no simple feat, once you get through peeling and prepping the cabbage leaves the rest of this recipe is one of the easiest! Really.
In Egypt, we call this dish “Mahshy Kromb”[Mah-shee Ko-romB], which literally means “stuffed cabbage”. In most else of the Arab world, particularly the Levant region, this dish is called “malfoof”, which literally means “rolled” or “wrapped”. Another important difference in this dish prepared in Egypt versus the rest of the Arab world, is that we make it completely vegetarian and full of aromatic herbs. However, in Palestine and Syria for example, it is usually prepared with meat. I of course, combine the best of both worlds. Although I must say I actually prefer the flavor of the vegetarian version; the singular focus on herbs is more flavorful and fragrant than its meat counterpart. In this I combine dill, parsley, and cilantro with rice sautéed in tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cumin with some lean ground beef. This is one delectable dish everyone MUST try!
The first step is to prepare the stuffing mixture. If you are adding beef, you want to leave enough time for the rice mixture to completely cool off before adding the raw meat so that it doesn’t begin to partially cook in the warm temperature of the rice. If you aren’t adding beef, you still want this mixture to cool off so that you can stuff the cabbage leaves easily and not scorch your fingers. Sauté the onions, garlic, and tomatoes in olive oil until they are soft, fragrant, and begin to yellow a bit. Toss in the rice and tomato paste so that it is all well coated. You then add all the chopped fresh herbs. At this point it will smell incredible; try to refrain from eating all the stuffing mixture. Remember we still need to stuff the cabbage leaves before you enjoy this 😉 Set aside to cool.
Now you need to prepare your cabbage leaves. The trick to success here is picking the right cabbage and separating the leaves. Finding a “good” cabbage with tender leaves seems to be all luck, at least in Chicago. Reportedly, there are much better cabbages to use in the Middle East and it is very hard to come by them here in the US. The leaves of the cabbages grown here are larger, thicker, and coarser. Nonetheless, you can find a good cabbage by picking a young green one, with what looks like softer, smaller leaves. But again, its all luck-for me and many I know anyway. If you have a good source for picking or buying the right cabbage, please do share it below! I happen to find the best cabbages at a Middle Eastern market or Mexican grocery store, so if you have any in your neighborhood definitely check those out. As for separating the leaves, I have a very simple way to do so. You need a large enough pot to submerge the cabbage in water, a knife, a fork, and tongs. I first core out the rough center of the cabbage with a knife and pull it out. After washing thoroughly, and pulling off the rough outer leaves, I boil the cabbage for about 3 minutes. Then using tongs and a fork, I start to pull away the leaves and placing them in a colander to drain. You do not want to cook down the leaves in this step! We are simply blanching them to facilitate the separation of the leaves and to slightly soften them.
Once you have the leaves prepared, it’s smooth sailing from here. Kids can help with the rest; it’s that easy. Place a spoon of the rice mixture in the center, and roll the leaves up like a tight cigar or burrito. Line the bottom of the pot with several thick slices of potatoes to protect the cabbage from scorching, and begin to stack the rolled cabbage leaves, filling up one layer at a time.
Finally, pour the cooking liquid (tomato sauce, water, and seasoning) over the rolled leaves and cook to perfection. After the pot comes to a boil, simmer on low for about 35 minutes. Cooking time varies so watch the liquid so that you do not burn your delicate cabbage rolls!
Congratulations! You have made one of the most delicious dishes ever invented.
- 1-2 green cabbages
- 2 c medium grain rice
- 2 bunch of dill (1 c chopped)
- 1-2 bunch of parsley (1 c chopped)
- 1 bunch of cilantro (1/2 c chopped)
- 1 cup diced tomatoes (fresh, not canned)
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp cumin, plus 1/2 tsp for cooking liquid
- 1 tsp coriander
- 2 tsp salt, plus 1 tsp extra if adding meat
- 1 tsp black pepper, plus 1 tsp extra if adding meat
- 1 tbsp fresh minced garlic
- 1-2 onions, diced
- 1 lb lean ground beef (optional)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2" thick rounds
- In a large pot, over medium heat, sauté the chopped onions in 2 tbsp of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic once the onions begins to soften. Add the diced tomatoes, rice, and spices (cumin, coriander, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp of black pepper). Stir well until well coated.
- Add 2 tbsp of tomato paste to the mixture and stir well. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Add all of the chopped parsley, dill, and cilantro to the rice mixture.
- If adding beef, add it to the rice mixture only after it has completely cooled so that you do not partially cook the meat in the heat of the rice (this will make an unfavorable smell and texture). Add the extra salt and pepper to the beef. If you want to make some cabbage without meat, skip the meat for now, and add it later.
- In a large stock pot, boil enough water to cover the entire cabbage when immersed.
- Cut out the core of the cabbage and remove any thick outer leaves. Wash it very well.
- Immerse the cabbage into the pot of water and allow it to boil for only about 2-3 minutes. Then begin to pull off leaves using a fork and tongs. Place each leaf you pull off into a colander to drain. Continue doing this until you have removed all the leaves. Rinse off with cold water and set aside to drain.
- Take one leaf at a time to prepare for rolling. Shave off the thick stalk of the cabbage leaf (see picture), or you may completely cut out the stem with a knife, leaving a v-shaped opening in the leaf. Simply overlap the two sides of the leaf to close this gap. If the leaf is large enough, you could even cut it into two smaller leaves.
- Place the leaf on a plate, with the vines of the leaf against the plate. Place a tablespoon of the rice mixture onto the leaf, and roll up like a burrito or cigar. There is no need to fold in the sides as the leaves are thick and will hold shape. However, I like to fold in the sides halfway through my roll, just to keep them all neat and nice :)
- Place each rolled leaf into a wide and deep pot, lined with potato slices on the bottom to prevent the leaves from scorching and sticking.
- After you have stacked all the cabbage leaves in the pot, prepare the cooking liquid. Combine 2 cups of water with 1 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp of cumin, 1 tbsp of olive oil, and 1 tbsp of tomato paste.
- Cover the cabbage leaves with a weighted plate, so that they do not float and move around and become undone when you pour the liquid over. Slowly pour the liquid over the plate until it sifts through down to the cabbage leaves and covers them.
- Turn the heat on to medium-high and allow the pot to come to a boil. Once it boils, turn it down to low and remove the plate carefully with tongs (its hot!). Cover with a lid and cook for about 30-45 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.
- Allow the cabbage rolls to cool for about 15 minutes, then serve warm.
- Bil hana wil Shifaa! (With health and healing!)