Stuffed cabbage leaves are universally loved!
As many countries attribute it to their cuisine, I decided to try to find the origin of stuffed cabbage rolls. I did a google search and WOW…..you won’t believe how many countries insist that stuffed cabbage is THEIR DISH! Some forums even have heated discussions on the subject! So I settled that finding the exact origin is a lost cause and agree to the fact that stuffed cabbage leaves are very, very, very, very popular across the Middle East, Balkan countries, Eastern Europe, Armenia, Finland and Sweden.
Arabs call stuffwed cabbage “Mahshi Malfouf”. “Mahshi” means stuffed and “Malfouf” has a double meaning of ‘cabbage’ and ‘rolled’. Turks and Armenians name them “Dolma”. Poles call them “Gołąbki” meaning ‘little pigeons’ while Czechs and Slovaks refer to them as “Holubky”. They are known as “Sarma” to Serbs, Croatians and Bulgarians and “Sarmale” to Romanians. Swedes and Danes call them “Kåldolmar” while in Finland they are known as “kaalikääryle”. Whatever their name, stuffed cabbage rolls are the epitome comfort food!
I found it strange that stuffed cabbage rolls are popular in Sweden and Finland. All the other countries are close to each other, while these two are so far away. So how did cabbage rolls reach their cuisine?
In 1709, Charles XII of Sweden lost the Battle of Poltave against the Russians and fled to Moldavia which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. There, he spent two years in exile trying to convince the Ottoman Empire to help him defeat the Russians after which he returned to Sweden. Since he had borrowed considerable amounts of money from Ottoman creditors to finance his wars, they followed him to Sweden and during this time stuffed cabbage rolls were introduced in Sweden and from there to neighboring countries.
Cabbage rolls consists of cabbage leaves wrapped around a filling that traditionally is based around meat and rice and seasoned with a variety of seasoning. There are also popular vegetarian adaptations. The rolled cabbage leaves are then cooked by either baking, simmering or steaming. The sauce that the rolls are cooked in, or served with, is the distinctive factor that varies widely between the different cuisines. Also some cuisines use fresh softly cooked leaves for wrapping while others use pickled leaves.
In the Middle East “Mal-fouf” dishes are very popular. We use cabbage leaves, vine leaves, and Swiss chard leaves for rolling. The stuffing can include meat or not. The districting factor in our version is the spices we use and the lemony sauce. The Armenia version, that my grandmother used to prepare, is also lemony but much more so than this version.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe
Preparation time: 40 min Cook time: 90 min
1 large cabbage
3 heads of garlic, keep the skin on the garlic cloves
¼ cup lemon juice (if you like a strong lemony flavor increase to taste)
1 ½ teaspoon salt (adapt to taste)
6-7 cups water
5-6 ribs with fat, or chicken necks (optional, add these for extra flavor if you wish)
Cabbage Rolls Filling:
250 grams ground beef
2 ½ cups uncooked medium-grain rice
2 ½ teaspoons mixed spices
1 ½ teaspoon allspice
1 ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced or very finely chopped
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil (canola, corn or sunflower)
How to make stuffed cabbage rolls
Preparing the cabbage leaves:
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Wash the head of cabbage and remove two layers of the outside leaves.
- With a knife, cut around the core of the cabbage loosening it a bit. Immerse the cabbage in the boiling water with the core facing up.
- As the cabbage cook, the outer leaves will become tender and will separate from the head - because of the cut you made. Note: if the cut is not enough to allow the leaves to separate, use your knife to gently pulling them away from the core. Cook until a bit soft but not translucent.
- Using tongs, gently remove leaves from the boiling water and set aside on a large tray/pan.
- As you remove the leaves, keep deepening the cut at the core so that the other leaves also fall from the core as they soften.
- Continue this process until all the leaves are cooked and separated from core. Note: for the small leaves at the core, many will be too small to roll, but don’t discard them as we will line the bottom of the pan with them.
- This step can be done a day ahead and the leaves stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
Rolling/stuffing the cabbage leaves:
- Mix all the filling ingredients together (ground beef, rice, mixed spices, allspice, ground cinnamon, ground black pepper, ground cumin, minced garlic, minced onion, salt and oil).
- Line the bottom of a large pot with the small, un-rollable cabbage leaves. If you are using ribs or chicken necks line them on top of the cabbage leaves layer.
- Take the cabbage leaf and cut into workable wide stripes, removing the main hard vein (core). Note: you can either do this step for all the leaves and after that start rolling, or do it for each individual leave as you go.
- Lay the leaf flat on the working area. Spoon a small amount of the meat/rice mixture on the outer edge (1 cm from edge) and roll the leaf twice or three times max. No need to fold the edges. Don't worry about the layer being too thin and the edges open, the rice won’t come! If you roll the leave more than 2, 3 maximum layers, the taste will be ruined! The end result should be small sized rolls the size of medium cigars!
- Place in the pot on top of the cabbage layer. Keep rolling until all the leaves are finished.
- As you are arranging the rolls in layers, spread the unpeeled garlic cloves in between the cabbage rolls.
Cover the rolls with a ceramic or glass plate, The plate presses the rolls down and keeps them from moving while cooking.
- Mix 6 cups water with the salt and lemon juice and pour over the cabbage rolls. Water should be just above the cabbage. If the water is not enough, add more.
- Open fire and bring the mixture to boil, taste the water to see if it need additional salt. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 30-40 minutes until well cooked.
- When the rolls are cooked, close fire and remove the pot cover. Note: it is important to remove the pot cover so that the rolls don’t get soggy and break.
Let the cooked stuffed cabbage rolls it stand for a few minutes before you move the rolls to the serving plate.The traditional Middle Eastern way to serve stuffed cabbage rolls is to flip the pan on a large tray. How to do that? Place the large tray on the top of the pot. Place one hand over the tray and the other hand (covered with kitchen mitten) at the bottom of the pot. Very quickly flip the pot upside down. You need to do this quickly so the broth doesn’t spill, and do it over the sink in case of spilling.
Hope you enjoyed today’s easy recipe: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Middle Eastern Style. Bon Appetite.
What is you favorite recipe for preparing stuffed cabbage rolls?
اضغط الرابط لقراءة وصفة محشي الملفوف باللغة العربية