Malfouf is a traditional Lebanese dish which involves rolling cabbage leaves with a stuffing of ground meat, rice, 7-spices (of course), then stacking them in a cooking pot in layers with garlic in between, and then simmering them on low heat in a sauce made with lemon juice, fried minced garlic, water and salt.
My mouth is watering as we speak This recipe LOVES lemon juice, and I hope you get to use freshly squeezed lemons as they make a difference.
Other variations of this recipe in the traditional Lebanese cuisine can be made with Swiss chard leaves instead of cabbage, which would then be called “sleek mih-sheh” meaning “stuffed Chards.” But that’s for another time.
- 1 Cabbage head (4 lbs)
- ¾th lb of lean ground beef (~ 350 grams)
- 1 cup of rice, rinsed, dried
- 3 heads of garlic, freshly peeled
- 4 lemons, freshly squeezed
- 1-2 teaspoons of 7 spices
- 3 table spoons of olive oil
- Salt to taste
- A 4 lbs cabbage head should yield around 30-35 rolled cabbage leaves depending on how big the leaves are.
- Peel and discard the outer leaves of the cabbage.
- Pit out the large stem from the bottom of the cabbage as in the photo above. This will help the leaves get separated easier.
- To separate the leaves, simmer the entire cabbage head in a large pot of boiling water for 5-10 minutes while carefully turning it over to ensure exposure to all of its sides.
- As the leaves loosen, pin down the cabbage inside the pot with one fork, and with another fork slowly peel away the leaves one after the other. Do this slowly and carefully so you don’t hurt yourself with boiling water, and to also ensure that leaves are whole and not torn.
- Place the cabbage leaves in a colander as you peel them. Please note that if you try to peel leaves of a raw cabbage they’ll very likely break and tear.
- Once you’ve separated all leaves, try to roll one or two of them to see if they are soft enough. If not, and if they tear or break, put them back in the boiling water pot and cook them for another 5 minutes.
- Mix the ground beef with the rice, 1 to 2 teaspoons of Lebanese 7-spices (or Allspice) to taste as well as ½ teaspoon of salt to taste. Mix them well and set aside.
- Lay each cabbage leaf separately on a cutting board, cut out the stem if it’s too thick. Spread 1 to 2 table spoons of meat stuffing along the edge of the leaf , then roll it slowly and tightly over the meat all the way.
- Line up the stuffed rolls carefully in a wide/deep cooking pot one by the other in a compact manner until you’ve completed a layer which you will garnish with a few chopped cloves of garlic. Place the rolls with the greenest leaves on the bottom of the pot since they need more heat/longer to cook.
- Roll all the leaves and place them in the pot in this manner while placing garlic cloves in between the layers. You may end up with 2 to 4 layers of rolls, depending on how wide the cooking pot is.
- In a frying pan, saute 10-15 cloves of freshly minced or crushed garlic (one head) with 3 table spoons of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice until they start to turn light brown then dump the entire content on top of the cooking pot.
- Squeeze 4 lemons, mix them with 4 cups of water, and ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt (to taste), then add them to the cooking pot. The sauce should cover the rolls and if not, add more water until it does.
- Carefully shake/tilt the cooking pot sideways a few times to ensure the sauce seeps through everywhere and that the fried garlic also mixes well with the sauce (or you can mix them in advance).
- Place a heavy plate inside the pot, on top of the rolls, cover the pot, and turn on the stove on high heat for about 5-10 minutes until they boil, at which time you turn heat to very low and let them simmer slowly for 1 to 1.5 hours (until the cabbage is fully cooked and is no longer crunchy – time may vary, however you should be left with a bit of sauce on the bottom don’t let it dry up).
- Serve hot with an optional side of plain Greek yogurt and an optional squeeze of lemon juice.