These little Middle Eastern rolls of cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, vegetables & herbs are small pieces of heaven packed with amazing flavor & simple ingredients. They are also very forgiving so don’t worry about matching the recipe exactly, it’ll taste wonderful either way. This is my Nana’s recipe & I’m honored to be able to make & share it (although over the years I’ve asked her to replace the traditional ground beef with more vegetables 😉 ). She still approves!
Let me know if you try it, enjoy!
The filling & sauce is really what makes this dish. If you don’t have cabbage & have other ingredients like spicy or sweet peppers, zucchini or eggplant, this filling is perfect to stuff those too!
Cutting a deep hole in the stem of the cabbage makes separating the leaves so much easier. The goal is to boil the cabbage just long enough to allow the leaves to become flexible enough to roll!
Stuffing & rolling the cabbage is the fun part! I love recruiting some of my family members or friends to help & chatting or putting on a great movie as we roll.
*gasp* Come on, look how beautiful!
- 1 medium head of cabbage (2.42 lbs)
- 1 cup (225 g) long grain white rice, rinsed + soaked
- 2 beefsteak or 4 Roma tomatoes (1½ c or 270 g), chopped
- 1 bunch of parsley (1 c or 51 g), chopped
- 1 bunch of cilantro (1 c or 51 g), chopped
- 1 15 oz (436 g) can chickpeas, rinsed + drained
- 1 large yellow onion (1½ c or 200 g), chopped
- 1 tsp + 1 tbsp allspice, divided
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- ¼ cup (60 ml) + 2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, divided
- 1 14.5 oz (411 g) can crushed tomatoes (if you don't have crushed tomatoes you can use diced/petite + blend it until it's creamy)
- 4 tbsp tamarind concentrate*
- 2 cups (500 ml) filtered water
- 1 tsp allspice
- sea salt to taste
- rinse the rice under cool water + drain until the water runs clear. while I prep my vegetables I like to let my rice soak + then drain it right before I use it for easier digestion but this is optional!
- add 2 tbsp (30 ml) of olive oil to a frying pan on medium heat. once hot add the onion + 1 tbsp of allspice + sauté to release the flavor of the spices just until the onions are translucent (not browned)
- to a large bowl add + using your hands mix together the rice, sautéed onions, tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, chickpeas, 1 tsp allspice, 1 tbsp sea salt + ¼ cup (60 ml) of olive oil squishing some of the chickpeas. taste + adjust seasoning as needed (it may taste salty, that's ok. the salt will cause the water to come out of the cabbage while cooking)
- set aside the filling**
- peel + throw away the outer leaves of the cabbage
- take a sharp knife, cut off as much of the stem as you + carve a ~1 inch hole the circumference of the stem (see photo above). this is going to allow the leaves to easily separate from the stem
- place the cabbage with the stem side down in a large pot or Dutch oven + cover with water as high as you can (it's okay if the water doesn't reach the top of the cabbage, the steam should soften the top!) + place the pot on the stove on high until it begins to boil
- watch closely as you don't want the cabbage to overcook. once the water has just started boiling the outer leaves should begin separating naturally. take a pair of tongs in one hand + a sharp knife in the other + begin pulling away the outer leaf. if it's still connected to the stem use your knife to cut off the leaf at the base. at this point double check that the leaf is done by making sure the stem of the leaf feels flexible. place the leaf in a strainer + keep going until you reach the core of the cabbage. save the core + cabbage scraps as we will still use it!
- get your pot ready (I used the same pot I used to boil the cabbage) by covering the bottom with a healthy coat of olive oil to prevent burning + putting the cabbage scraps that can't be rolled + the core (not the stem) of the cabbage on the bottom of the pot as they'll soak up flavor + be delicious/tender
- this is the fun part! set up your station: there should be a large plate/cutting board directly in front of you, the bowl of the filling on your left + the cabbage leaves on your right. lets get rolling!
- for the large leaves with firmer stems you can either (1) cut the leaf in half + toss the stem if it's a big enough leaf to become two or (2) the upside-down "v" method (see photo above): cut the bottom portion of the hard stem in an upside-down letter "v" cutting out the hard portion of the stem that won't roll or is tough
- take a small portion of the filling in a line about an inch in the leaf, flip the inch of leaf over the filling, fold in the sides (if possible) + roll tightly like you would a burrito (see photos above as they will help a lot!). if the filling falls out while you're rolling, just stuff it back in! Note: do not over stuff as the rice will expand when it cooks + make sure to roll tight enough so they stay rolled
- as you finish rolling each dolma place it in the pot, over the cabbage scraps, starting on the outer edges in a circle design (see photo above)
- in a medium sized bowl make the sauce by adding + mixing together all the sauce ingredients -- crushed tomatoes, water, allspice + sea salt to taste
- pour the sauce evenly over the dolma + place a plate, about the circumference of your pot, directly on top (inside the pot), hugging the dolmas allowing them to steam, + cover with the pot's lid
- simmer on high heat for 15 minutes then lower the heat to medium-low for 30-40 minutes or until cabbage is soft
- lift + take out the plate carefully + test one of the larger dolmas on top to make sure the filling is cooked + the cabbage is soft. also taste a spoonful of the sauce + feel free to add lemon juice to taste if you like more of a tang (I usually add ~1/4 cup because I love it sour!)
- once done flip the pot in a serving dish, baking sheet or any large dish as the sauce on the bottom will then cover all the dolmas distributing the flavor
**I had just enough filling for the amount of cabbage. if you run out of filling you can simply add more rice or another can of chickpeas. it's up to you!