Middle Easterners have managed to stuff almost every vegetable you can think of but I think malfouf, or stuffed cabbage, is their most genius creation! Malfouf is my absolute favourite stuffed dish, which is why I made sure to master it and it is now one of the most requested dishes by my family and guests.
Various versions of the dish are made across the Middle East, including in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey. Like many Middle Eastern dishes, each country, city and family has its own way of making the dish, and today I’ll be making my interpretation of the Levantine version.
Malfouf has two meanings in Arabic, “cabbage” and “rolled”, and both words describe the dish perfectly. Malfouf is cabbage leaves rolled with a fragrant meat and rice mixture. They are then cooked in a lemony broth and served with a side of refreshing yogurt. The addition of lamb chops isn’t very traditional and is optional, but I highly recommend it because it soaks up the delicious cooking liquid resulting in super tender braised pieces of meat.
Rolling the cabbage may seem difficult, but it is actually much easier than rolling grape leaves and doesn’t require as much time. Just make sure you put the filling in a long row on the cabbage leaf, avoiding the edges, so that the filling doesn’t spill out. The sides of the cabbage leaves are not tucked in, so you end up with a roll with open sides. But don’t worry, the filling won’t fall out.
Once the malfouf is cooked, it is best to let is rest 20 minutes or so for it to cool and hold its shape, but my family is pretty impatient when it comes to malfouf. As my husband puts it, the first plate of malfouf is eaten super hot and super quick, just to satisfy your craving for it, while the second plate is the one you actually taste and enjoy! Serve this with some cucumber and yogurt salad and watch the dish magically disappear!
- 1 large flat cabbage
- 1 large potato, sliced
- 500g lamb chops
- 1 tbsp vegetable/sunflower oil
- ½ tbsp mixed spice
- ½ tbsp cumin
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tbsp dried mint
- 1½ cups short grain (Egyptian) rice – soaked in water for 1 hour
- 350g minced meat (beef or lamb)
- 1 large onion, very finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp vegetable/sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- 1 tbsp mixed spice
- 1 ½ tbsp cumin
- ½ tbsp cinnamon
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- Dried mint
- 300ml beef stock (or enough to just cover the malfouf)
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- Dried mint
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Remove any damaged leaves and the core from the cabbage and place in a pot of boiling water. As the leaves begin to soften, slowly peel them away and place aside.
- To make the stuffing, mix all of the ingredients together, making sure they are evenly distributed. Using a fork is the best way to ensure the meat is properly mixed with the rice.
- Place some oil and the lamb chops in a large pot and season the lamb chops. Then layer the sliced potatoes and season them. Cook on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, just until the lamb chops are seared. Remove from the heat and begin rolling the malfouf.
- Place some of the stuffing on a cabbage leaf in a long row and roll the malfouf. You may need to cut the leaf in half if it is too big. There is no need to fold the sides of the leaves in.
- Arrange the rolled malfouf in the large pot, over the lamb chops and potatoes, making sure they are tightly wrapped and snugly arranged next to each other. This will stop them from opening while cooking.
- Sprinkle each layer of arranged malfouf with cumin, sliced garlic, and dried mint.
- Once you’ve rolled all of the cabbage, chop any left over pieces and sprinkle over the top.
- Mix together the cooking liquid ingredients and carefully pour over the malfouf, making sure it is evenly distributed in the pot.
- Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat and cover. Cook for about 45 min-1 hour, or until the leaves are tender and the rice and meat mixture is cooked.
- Once the malfouf is cooked, mix ¼ cup lemon juice and 2 tbsp olive oil, along with salt if needed, and pour over the malfouf. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes then remove from the heat.
When you are ready to serve the malfouf, turn it over into a large serving dish and enjoy with a side of cucumber and yogurt salad!