Lakhana dolma, Malfouf mehchi…. This dish exists in pretty much every country in the world and has hundreds of variations…check out this Wikipedia entry for Cabbage Rolls!
Stuffed vegetables have an important place in the Syrian kitchen and particularly Aleppo, a city known for its stuffed dishes and kibbés. Many vegetables are carved to be filled: courgettes, eggplants (aubergines), peppers or tomatoes. Leaves are also stuffed such as grape leaves or cabbage leaves. In Arabic it is called Malfuf/Malfoof (= cabbage) Mehchi (= stuffed) but also Lakhana in Aleppo, from the Turkish Lahana which means “cabbage”.
For this recipe, the filling is made with rice and minced meat like most stuffed dishes. The sauce in which the cabbage leaves will be cooked contains lemon juice, or tomato sauce. In this recipe it’s both lemon and tomato to which we add pomegranate molasses. We will also adds a piece of meat or chicken to give the sauce more flavor, but the main focus remains the stuffing.
Note: There are different ways to roll the leaves. In Syria you’ll often find small cigar-shaped rolls. Here, I have kept the original size and shape of the leaf, this naturally closes the ends of the leaves when rolled.
- 1 cabbage (white)
- a nice piece of meat (collar, shoulder) or chops of lamb or veal) or chicken
- 500 g round rice (risotto rice)
- 500 g minced (ground) meat (veal or lamb or a mix of the two)
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- one tbsp of tomato paste
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of 7 spices (Syrian spice mixture Syrian called bhar)
- 3 tbsp of tomato paste (small tin can) (140 g)
- 5 tbsp of pomegranate molasses
- juice of 1 lemon juice
- a entire head of garlic
- 1 tbsp of dried mint
- 1 tsp of salt
Wash the rice and soak 5 minutes in hot water, then wash again and drain. Mix with minced meat, 2 crushed garlic cloves, tomato paste, mint, salt and 7 spices. Put aside.
Cabbage leaves preparation:
Remove the core of the cabbage, put in a large pot, and cover with water. Roll the cabbage in the water a couple of times so that the water enters the center of the cabbages as well. As soon as the water begins to boil, gradually remove the leaves, one at a time starting from the outer leaves, using a fork and a knife. Wait 30 seconds between leaves to let them cook fully. The leaves should now be very soft and ready to roll.
Before rolling, remove the central stem of each leaf with a knife so that it’s softer and easier to roll. Take a leaf, put about 2 tbsp of stuffing covering 2/3 of the width of the leaf. Then wrap into a roll. Don’t make it too tight since the rice will grow while cooking and will expand the contents.
Do the following step while you’re busy rolling
In a pan put meat (or chicken) and cover with water. Boil, then discard the liquid and wash the meat. Dry the pan and the meat. Then with a bit of olive oil sear the meat for a couple of minutes on each site until the outside is cooked. Now cover the meat again with water, add salt and cook. Note: be careful when pouring the water in the hot pan, do it in one shot or else oil may splash on your hands.
Once the meat is just cooked (15 minutes), add the tomato paste, pomegranate molasses and lemon juice to the broth. Separate the cloves from the head of garlic, peel them and add them to the sauce. You may want to add some between the rolls to spread the flavors.
Arrange the rolls over the meat or chicken (which will cook a second time, and become very soft). Cover with water up to the top of the rolls, sprinkle some dried mint on top.
Cover with a plate to add weight. This will prevent the rolls from opening up during the cooking process. Simmer over low heat 45 minutes. Serve hot with plain yogurt.