Monday, 23 August 2010

Mehshi Malfouf (Stuffed Cabbage rolls)

Before I go in to the recipe and details, Let me Wish you all a 'Happy Onam'. This post is not related to Onam, but something that I started composing a while ago.


As I spent a major chunk of my life in the Arab world, I was acquainted to most of their food and I absolutely adore them. Who wouldn’t? I guess my love affair with Arabic food dish dates back to my university days or way before that when it comes to sweets like Baklawa and their all time favourite rice Machbus. There were couple of Lebanese Bakeries next to our campus where they sold Lebanese pizza and sandwiches, different kind of snacks, sweets and what not. Almost all afternoons I and my friends would stop at one of the bakeries and grab something and take it to the university canteen to devour during our busy university schedule and some discussions to go along with it or gossiping to add a bit of spice! The bakery sold all the famous Arabic Lebanese food and they have become part of my regular diet. During Ramadan, they used to display a different array of assorted snacks and sweets like Shaabiat, Luqaimat, Nammoura, Basbousa, Qatayef, Othmaliye to name a few. I used to grab few of them and take home to share it with my family too.

Apart from all that , During Ramadan, each faculty used to organize an Iftar evening where you would come across all the home made treats that you wouldn’t normally see in bakeries or sometimes even in restaurants. Oh boy! Those were days. I have come across many dishes that I have never seen before or even after those Iftar events in the College. In one of the Grand Iftar organized by our faculty, I remember there were around 6 - 8 rice Varieties served in Massive plates - as massive as it could be; with huge chunks of seasoned lamb served on top of each rice dish. Since lamb dishes were prepared in bite sized pieces at home, it was amusing for me to see them in large chunks, even though it din’t appeal me much. That was when I came across this ‘Stuffed Cabbage rolls’ also known as ‘Dolmah’ and Warak Al Einab or stuffed Grape leaves. They were very lemony for my taste, one bite into it and I could see myself just blinking. It is that sour. But apparently it is one of the most favourite and popular dishes of the Arab Community. Apart from the lemony taste the flavours were absolutely divine.

When I searched on the recipe for stuffed Cabbage leaves, I found out that not only the Arabs but all across the globe make stuffed cabbages but with their own native variations. You would find many variations with different kinds of fillings and a variety of cabbages like green cabbage or the savoy ones, but this is the kind that I am familiar with - the regular white cabbage that we normally get to see in India or UAE. I have always trusted Nestle family for their recipes and have followed their recipe pretty much as it is with minimal changes. And this is the Arabic version of Stuffed cabbage, literally known as 'Mehshi Malfouf'.

I prepared this dish at night and so I couldn’t shoot pictures of step by step preparations. The prepared dish was shot in the following noon by then which the rolls got a bit pale which otherwise was a bit more of a translucent off white. It is best served and eaten as soon as it is prepared. I have used home made Baharat or Arabic spice mix, but you can use readymade ones or even garam masala and adjust the seasoning to your liking. The only time consuming part in the process was separating the cabbage leaves. I had to cook the cabbage in boiling water for around 10 minutes then remove few leaves at a time, then return the cabbage back to boiling water to cook for further few more minutes to remove few more leaves until all leaves were takes except for the laste few which were too small to roll. It took me some extra time than I expected. But if you use different kind of cabbage, with loose leaves, it should be easier. And the filling is just mixing the ingredients without prior cooking which makes the job really easy.

25 - 30 leaves of white cabbage (Around 600 g)
¾ cup rice or 150 g, soaked for 2 hours and drained (I used Basmati, traditionally Egyptian rice is used)
300 g minced lamb
3 medium cloves of garlic, crushed
½ Tablespoon Arabic Spice Mix
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon paprika or Red chilli powder
2 Tablespoons chopped mint (20 leaves)
2 ½ Tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
1 Tablespoon Ghee (Clarified Butter)
5 large cloves of garlic, extra
1 ½ cubes MAGGI® Flavored Mutton Bouillon
2 cups water or 500 ml
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large onion sliced
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil


Please Check the Links below for an idea of how the Cabbage is prepared and is rolled:

1. Core the centre stalk of the cabbage, and blanch it in boiling water for 15 -20 minutes or until soft and pliable. It should look kind of semi transparent when done.Separate the leaves without much breaking. Leaves should be pliable, so that you can roll them easily without breaking up. If it hasn’t reached this stage, put the cabbage back to the sauce pan, cover and boilfor few more minutes until it reaches that stage. Then start separating the leaves until all leaves are removed. Once done, take each leaf and thinly slice the thicker part of the rib of each leaf to make it thinner. Else it will be difficult to roll. If you can separate the leaves without blanching, separate them and blanch.

2. Combine uncooked rice, meat, garlic, spices, mint, coriander and butter in a bowl. Mix well until well combined.

3. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling almost in the middle of the leaf opposite side of the thick rib part, fold the sides over to cover the filling and roll the leaf up. Fold it tightly so that everything is intact. Repeat until all of the filling is used up.

4. Meanwhile, heat oil in a saucepan/casserole dish and sauté the onions till it turns completely soft. Arrange cabbage rolls tightly over these sautéed onions and sprinkle some garlic slices over. Arrange another layer over the first layer and sprinkle rest of garlic as well. The rolls should be placed next to each other without spaces in between for them to open loose in the cooking process.

5. Dissolve MAGGI Mutton/ Chicken Bouillon cubes with water, add lemon juice and pour over the rolls. Add enough water just above the rolls. Invert a heavy dinner plate over the rolls, so that the rolls stay intact and doesn’t float while cooking.

6. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 20-25 minutes and reduce the heat and cook for further 35 – 40 minutes, a total of about 45 minutes - 1 hour, or until rice is cooked. You may pick out a roll after 40-45 minutes for checking the doneness. Once rice is completely cooked, serve immediately. There will be a little sauce left in the pan. You may pour that sauce over the rolls if you wish.
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