The Lebanese have a fondness for stuffed vegetables that is second to none. Cabbage rolls are another Lebanese classic and a mezza favourite. They can be served hot or cold, with fresh yoghurt or a squeeze of lemon juice. Be sure to select a flat, round cabbage: it will have fewer crinkled leaves that can be difficult to roll.
1 cabbage, outer leaves discarded
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, finely chopped
3 teaspoons dried mint
1/4 cup (60 ml) lemon juice, plus extra to serve (optional)
2 cups (400 g) long-grain rice, washed and drained
500 g coarsely minced lean lamb
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground allspice
3 teaspoons salt
20 g butter
1 small tomato, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Remove the core of the cabbage, cutting as deep as possible into the cabbage. With the hollow centre down, submerge the cabbage in a large saucepan of boiling water. Remove individual leaves as they soften and break away and place in a colander to drain. Set aside a few leaves to line the pan.
Spread the remaining leaves on a chopping board and cut in half lengthways, removing the centre stalk. Cut in half again, widthways, trimming to shape the leaves into 8 cm x 11 cm rectangles – don’t worry if not all the leaves are evenly sized.
To make the filling, combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix together well. Take 1 heaped teaspoon of the filling and pile it along the top of the quartered cabbage leaf, allowing a little space on both sides, then roll (there is no need to fold in the edges). Squeeze the roll firmly in the palm of your hand to remove any excess water. Repeat until all the filling is used.
Line the base of a medium-sized heavy-based saucepan with the reserved cabbage leaves. Pack the rolls close together in the pan, but do not press down or pack them too firmly. When a layer is completed, sprinkle with a little garlic and tomato and 1 teaspoon of the dried mint (there should be three layers). Repeat until all the rolls are in the pan.
Pour lemon juice over the rolls and add enough water to cover. Place a heatproof plate over the rolls to prevent them from breaking apart while cooking. Cover and bring to the boil over the high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 1 hour or until the rice is cooked. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon juice, or garnish with chopped tomato and garlic, if desired.
This recipe and others are included in Abla’s® book The Lebanese Kitchen, available from all good book stores, or by contacting Patricia at Present Company Included on +61 3 9387 4717.