It was at the back of my head last week that this would have been my fourth post and I had not baked or cooked anything yet that involves a lengthy process… I guess time is at the core of everything when juggling different things. Slightly complicated dishes do need not just the time, but to an extent, the love and care in order to yield deliciousness and Stuffed Cabbage Leaves is just that!
Like anything that is extra special in life, it does take some time to prepare Malfouf. So, I like to do the cooking over two days. A day of shopping for the right cabbage (buy one that weighs approximately 3 kilos), boiling the whole cabbage to soften, then blanching each few leaves at a time, removing the hard stems and a day for stuffing and cooking. Do I make this every day? No. But every few months my friends and my other half itch for it.
I also like to check out different versions and recipes to find out exact measurements for Malfouf. The version that I have known for years is my grandmother’s.. I know I keep mentioning her but I can’t but do that as I’ve learnt a lot of my cooking from her. Lamiha is Circassian but married into a Syrian family and the lovely person that she is, her in-laws loved her. Yes.. you heard it right. In-laws loved her and taught her how to cook Syrian cuisine. Like many women cooks in the Middle East there is no exact recipe to be told. Measurement is done through some sort of a ‘cooking sense’ that involves eyes, fingers and taste.
So for an exact recipe I followed Christine Dabdoub Nasser’s book Classic Palestinian Cuisine. Mrs. Nasser cooks malfouf with minced beef. My adapted Syrian version happens to be a vegetarian/vegan one. In her book Mrs. Nasser writes “Buying the right cabbage is supposed to be an art, though I believe it is sheer luck… the most flavoursome variety come from the area south of Bethlehem and is only available in early summer, the only time of year any self-respecting cook will serve this dish at her table”.
You can find many different versions to one dish in the Middle East. Malfouf can be done in a variety of ways using different spices and opting for different stuffings. Even though it is considered to be a Palestinian dish, the Syrians and Lebanese have their own rendition of it.
- 1-1.5 kg blanched cabbage leaves, ready to be stuffed
- 1 and 3/4 cup egyptian or round grain rice
- 2 medium size finely grated carrots
- half a grated onion
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- 3 large diced tomatoes
- 10 peeled garlic cloves (crush 3, chop 2, thinly slice 5)
- juice of 3 1/2 lemons
- 3 .5 cups water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 or 2 table spoons pomegranate molasses
- 3 tablespoon dried mint
- 1 teaspoon all spice
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- salt and pepper
Like shown above. Place the whole cabbage in boiling water and as soon as the water comes to a boil again (aprox. 2 minutes), flip to the other side and repeat. Once removed from the pot and cooled down start undressing the cabbage one leaf at a time ensuring the leaves don’t tear. Boil for two minutes, two or three leaves at a time in water that is sprinkled in salt and cumin. Once cooled, remove the stems from the leaf, cutting the leaf into triangles or squares to roll up into cigars later on. In order not to break the leaves, do not stack while hot on top of each other
The next day or to prepare the stuffing, soak the rice in water and rinse thoroughly. Add the parsley, tomatoes, carrots, spices, salt and pepper. In a non stick pan, fry the onion and one/two chopped garlic in one tablespoon of oil olive oil. Once softened add the rice mixture and keep turning until the rice absorbs some of the juice from the tomatoes. Just before stuffing add the juice of half a lemon to the rice. You could skip this stage of frying the rice with onion all together but it really adds flavour to this dish.
Once the rice is cooled add a tablespoon inside the cabbage leaf, parallel to the veins and roll up like a cigarette, tucking the sides in whenever you can. On the side crush 3 cloves of garlic with salt and fry with 2 tablespoons of the dried mint in olive oil. Then stack the rolls carefully on top of the mint/garlic pesto, always adding the thinly sliced garlic, one tablespoon dried mint, salt&pepper in every few layers. In order to keep the cabbage rolls from moving while cooking, I top up the stacked cabbage with a plate in the pot. Add the water mixed with the juice of one lemon and cook on high for 5-10 minutes. Lower the heat and cook for an hour (if water has not disappeared, remove the lid and continue cooking). Once the water disappears mix the pomegranate juice with the juice of two lemons one tablespoon of olive oil, some salt and add to pot and let it cook for an additional 45 minutes. Bon Appetite!