Malfouf is a classic Middle Eastern dish, also known as malfoof, or stuffed cabbage rolls. The cabbage leaves are stuffed with a spiced rice, and cooked in a tangy lemony broth. Cabbage has never been this exciting!
What is malfouf? (malfoof)
Malfouf literally translates to rolled in the Arabic language. We specifically refer to this dish of rice stuffed cabbage as malfouf. Cabbage is boiled until tender enough to roll, and stuffed with a meat and rice mixture.
It’s such a comfort dish, and made with plenty of garlic and lemon that really amp up what can be a very bland flavor of cabbage. I have a few little tricks in this recipe to make it even more delicious and punchy!
Why should I make these stuffed cabbage rolls?
They are healthy and filling. The cabbage is full of fiber, and keeps you full for hours!
They are adaptable. You can add more or less of any herbs/spices you like. You can swap the ground beef out for lamb, or omit the meat entirely. Add more tomato paste for a more tomato-y flavor, leave out the pomegranate molasses, do whatever you like for taste preference.
They are delicious! The herbs and spices and olive oil and tomato paste really give lots of flavor to the dish, and the cabbage softens and soaks up the acidity of the lemon juice.
Where does malfouf originate?
Many would think of malfoof as Lebanese stuffed cabbage rolls, but actually the dish is common across the Levant. It’s a staple in Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian households, and commonly consumed across the Middle East.
What ingredients do you need for malfouf?
For the filling:
Calrose rice, like Egyptian rice.
Meat: We tend to favor ground beef, but you can definitely use ground lamb instead. It’s only a small amount of meat. the filling is definitely more rice than meat.
Spices: The main one is cumin. Cumin is known in Middle Eastern culture to help aid digestion, helpful in gas forming foods like cabbage. The flavor goes perfectly with the cabbage! I also added a dash of paprika, cinnamon, and seven spices (mixed spice or all spice) for flavor, as well as salt and pepper.
Olive Oil: A drizzle of good quality olive oil to help bind together the filling.
Herbs: I think fresh herbs really add to the flavor of the filling. This isn’t a must, but a handful of chopped parsley, and/or dill like I added really keep this dish from being bland.
Veggies: A diced onion, tomato, and a few cloves of garlic for flavor. I’d recommend dicing very finely, or even grating, so that the chunks aren’t too obvious when biting into the cabbage roll.
For the assembly:
Cabbage for the cabbage part obviously. I’d go for a big leafy white cabbage.
Garlic Cloves: Whole garlic cloves are a very important part of malfouf. You scatter them among the stuffed cabbage rolls as they cook, and the garlic softens and becomes sweet and tender. It’s my favorite part of the whole dish!
You can use peeled garlic cloves, or garlic cloves still in the peel. Traditionally, you’d probably keep them unpeeled, and squeeze them out while eating, but I prefer having them ready to eat.
Broth ingredients: a stock cube, hot water, dried mint, tomato paste, and lemon juice. This is what gets poured onto the stuffed cabbage rolls in the pot and what the cabbage is cooked in.
This is optional, but I love topping with a drizzle of olive oil and pomegranate molasses before cooking. After cooking, it’s very traditional to squeeze even more lemon juice onto the cabbage rolls. Delicious!
How to assemble and cook stuffed cabbage rolls:
First step is getting the cabbage leaves soft enough to even roll.
How to blanch cabbage leaves:
Chop off the bottom stalk of the cabbage, so that the leaves can separate, then drop them in a large pot of hot water. Bring to a simmer, and simmer 30 minutes or so until the leaves are pliable enough to roll. Don’t overcook, because they will cook fully once stuffed.
Make the filling:
This is the easiest part! All you need to do is mix together all the filling ingredients in a large bowl. I like using gloved hands to really get in there and work the mixture so that it’s smooth and combine and the ground meat is evenly distributed throughout.
Some recipes pre-cook the meat before adding it to the filling, but I find that to be too time consuming, messy, and unnecessary. The meat definitely has time to cook through on the stove top inside the cabbage leaves.
Get the pot ready:
Any blanched cabbage leaves that are too small, torn, or oddly shaped to roll with can line the bottom of the pan (this keeps the rolled stuffed cabbage from sticking). I also like to add slices of tomatoes to the top of this cabbage lining to cook through and add some pretty color and great flavor to the dish.
Stuff the cabbage leaves:
Lay each cabbage leaf out flat, then take a good 2 tbsp of filling and place it in a sort of line down the center. Roll the cabbage leaf up, the long way, until a little cabbage wrap has formed. You don’t need to tuck the ends in like you would with stuffed vine leaves. Squeeze the rolled cabbage tightly to hold it’s shape, and place in the pan. I pile them as neatly as I can in a sort of concentric shape into the pan, but don’t stress the arrangement so much. Be gentle with them so they don’t tear.
Make the broth:
Mix together hot water, tomato paste, a stock cube, dried mint, lemon juice, and you can even add the whole garlic cloves to this liquid mix.
Pour the broth on top of the stuffed cabbage rolls in the pot. The liquid should fill the pot in a way that most of the cabbage leaves submerged. The top layer of cabbage leaves may not be fully under water. You can see the video under the nutritional facts for reference.
Cook the malfouf:
Drizzle a little extra olive oil, and optionally some pomegranate molasses on top of the stuffed cabbage. Cover with a small plate, to hold the rolls in place as they boil, and allow mixture to come to a boil.
Once it boils, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for a good 1.5-2 hours, until cabbage is tender and rice is cooked through.
Let the dish stand for 10-15 minutes. If there’s too much water, you can drain a little water out of the side of the pot, then flip onto a serving plate. Squeeze extra lemon juice on top before eating, and enjoy warm!
What to serve malfouf with:
I like having this with yogurt. You can also do a cucumber mint salad, like the one in this post.
Serve with a simple green salad, and maybe some pita bread to sop up the juices.
Storing extra malfouf:
Leftover malfouf tastes great, cold or reheated! It’ll last 3-4 days tightly covered in the fridge.
To freeze cooked cabbage rolls, place them first single layer on a baking sheet for 30-45 minutes until cold, so that they won’t stick together in a freezer bag. Then, place in a freezer bag tightly sealed for up to 4 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge, and reheat stove top, microwave, or in the oven.
For more Middle Eastern stuffed vegetables, try:
and for more Middle Eastern Classics, try:
- 1 head cabbage, bottom removed so that leaves come apart
- 2 sliced tomatoes
- 4 cups hot water
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- 1 chicken bouillon cube
- 1 lemon squeezed, juice of
- 1 head of garlic, peeled
- drizzle olive oil
- drizzle pomegranate molasses, optional
For the stuffing:
- 1.5 cups Egyptian or short grain rice, rinsed and drained
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 1 lemon squeezed, juice of
- 1 tomato, finely diced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 tsp seven spices
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped dill (optional)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 0.5 lbs ground beef 250 g
- 2 tbsp olive oil
To prepare the cabbage:
- Place the cabbage leaves in a large pot of hot water. Simmer slowly for 30 minutes or so, until the leaves have softened enough that you'll be able to roll them easily. Drain, and set cabbage leaves aside. While this is happening, you can prepare your stuffing mixture.
To prepare the stuffing:
- In a large bowl, mix together all the stuffing ingredients thoroughly until well combined and mixture is cohesive. You might find it easier to use your hands to work the meat through the mixture. Set aside.
To assemble and cook:
- Choose a few cabbage leaves that are too stiff, torn, or too small too roll and use them to line the bottom of a large pan. Place the sliced tomatoes evenly on top of this cabbage leaf lining. The tomatoes will soften as they cook and are a delicious addition!
- Lay flat all the remaining cabbage leaves. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons of rice filling into the center of each cabbage leaf, and roll the cabbage leaf up. You don't need to tuck in the ends, just roll up to conceal the rice, squeeze to tighten, then place seam side down into the lined pot. Repeat with all remaining cabbage leaves and filling.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the hot water, the bouillon cube, the tomato paste, the dried mint, the lemon juice, and the whole garlic cloves. Pour this mixture over the stuffed cabbage leaves in the pot. The cabbage leaves should be nearly submerged in water, with the top layer maybe not fully underwater.
- Drizzle the top of the pot with olive oil and pomegranate molasses, and place a small plate on top of the stuffed cabbage leaves to hold them in place while the water around them boils. Cover the pot with the lid.
- Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 1.5-2 hours, or until cabbage leaves are tender enough to be cut with a fork, and rice is cooked through. Serve warm and enjoy!
Malfouf by everylittlecrumb on Jumprope.