Make Ahead

Egyptian Stuffed Cabbage

March  2, 2021
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Photo by Hajar D.
  • Prep time 3 hours
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 10
Author Notes

Egyptians love to stuff almost any vegetable -- grape leaves, of course, but also zucchini, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and even tomatoes. Most local Egyptians have never met a stuffed vegetable they didn't devour, although everyone has their personal favorites. Each recipe has slight modifications to suit the flavor profile -- but they're all filling, delicious, and comforting.

My husband's favorite is stuffed cabbage, sometimes called "Malfouf" in the Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese kitchen. Cabbage is a little tricky to work with because you have to disassemble the entire head, but do not be discouraged! We are going to go step-by-step to break down the process into bite-size pieces :)

You want to choose a large head of regular cabbage (not Napa). You should look for ones with dark green leaves on the outside that is "loose" and not a very compact cabbage.

The recipe is in four parts:
1. Braise the cabbage leaves to half-cook them
2. Prepare the stuffing mix
3. Roll the cabbage and stuffing, layering in the pot
4. Cook

Yes, it is a labor of love. I make this once a year :) The recipe is from my mom, grandmother, and our hometown of Beni Suef. When I was younger, my mom was busy with her medical practice, and sometimes my grandmother would send over stuffed cabbage in a big 'ole plastic bag. It's impossible to eat this and not remember my grandmother's amazing food. The combination of sweet cabbage with fragrant cilantro, parsley, and dill makes for a complete meal in one bite. I hope you give it a try -- this is really fun to make as a family or with your kids!

Bel hana wel shefa (Arabic: enjoy it with happiness and good health)! —Hajar D.

What You'll Need
  • Cabbage braising
  • 1 large head of cabbage with dark green leaves, as non-compact as possible (if only small cabbage available, use 2)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Stuffing Mix
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely minced
  • 1-1.5 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 can, tomato paste (6 oz.)
  • 3 cups Egyptian rice, or Goya medium grain rice, washed until water is clear
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (optional)
  • 1+ can, crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
  • 1 cup finely minced flat leaf parsley
  • 1 cup finely minced cilantro
  • 1 cup finely minced dill
  • 1 tablespoon Better Than Bullion Chicken flavor
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  1. Cabbage braising
  2. In a large, heavy pot, fill with water until about 2/3 full. Add salt and cumin, cover and bring to a boil.
  3. Remove any wilted or damaged leaves from the cabbage. Turn cabbage upside down (with stem facing you) on a cutting board. Make deep gashes into the cabbage leaves as close to the stem as possible in a circular fashion. Hold the stem and gently pull apart the leaves, one at a time, careful not to rip them.
  4. Place leaves 2-3 at a time in the boiling water. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes until it becomes less stiff and just wilted. Do not overcook. Remove and place in a colander.
  5. Gently peel leaves from the cabbage and cook in small batches. At some point, the cabbage will become too compact to remove the leaves. Hold the cabbage stem and gently lower half the remaining cabbage in the water. With your other hand, you can begin loosening the cabbage leaves one by one into the water. Once you have loosened 2-3 leaves, remove the head and set aside. Repeat until most of the cabbage is cooked. It's ok to stop at the deepest part of the cabbage, as the leaves become too crinkly to be rolled.
  6. Allow cabbage to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing mix.
  1. Stuffing Mix
  2. In a large Dutch oven or non-stick pot, add the vegetable oil and bring to medium high heat.
  3. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. If using, add the beef all at once, mixing with the onions and breaking up the clumps. Sauté until browned.
  4. Add the garlic and mince until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add all of the tomato paste, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes (the texture will change and become less of a formed paste). Add salt, pepper, and all-spice.
  5. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and stir until evenly mixed. Turn off the heat.
  6. Pour in all of the washed rice, stirring until mixed. Now add all of the herbs and stir until everything is combined. If necessary, adjust the salt. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool.
  7. Prep the cabbage leaves for rolling. Set up a clean work area with a cutting board. Take one cabbage leaf at a time and spread it out over the board. Cut out the thick stem, reserve for later. With the flat leaf on the board, cut it into 2-3 even pieces that can be rolled in a straight line, about 2 inches wide x 3-5 inches long. See Photo. Make a stack of leaf segments on a clean plate.
  8. Prepare the pan for cooking: generously drizzle vegetable or olive oil at the bottom of the Dutch oven or nonstick pot. Take several of the cabbage stems and cover the bottom to prevent the rolled leaves from scorching on the bottom layer.
  9. Roll the leaves: place an entire leaf segment on the cutting board. Leaving 1/2 inch of space at one end, place a line of the stuffing mixture about 1/2 inch wide inside the leaf. Gently roll it up (important to roll it securely but not too tightly, as the rice still needs to expand). See photo.
  10. Layer the rolled cabbage leaves in one direction until one layer is completely filled, then top with another layer at a ninety degree angle to the first one to prevent the rolled cabbages from unraveling. Continue rolling and layering at 90 degrees until all of the cabbage leaves are rolled (extra rice mixture may remain).
  11. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of crushed tomatoes + 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. (Alternatively, you can use 2 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 can of tomato paste). Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 heaping tablespoon of bullion paste and boil until dissolved.
  12. Place the pot with the rolled cabbage on medium heat. Pour all of the water/tomato mixture on the rolled cabbages. Cover and cook on medium low for 45 minute-1 hour. Do not uncover for the first 30 minutes, then begin checking if the rice is cooked on the top layers. If it appears too dry, add in 1/2 cup of water and continue to check. The cabbage is done with the rice is completely cooked and the liquid has been absorbed.
  13. Turn off heat. Add small pats of butter to the top. Cover. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. Enjoy, or:
  14. Place a large plate over the opening of the pot. Carefully invert the entire pot and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Gently remove the pot and serve immediately.

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