When you think about Lebanese food, fattoush, tabbouleh or hummus, most likely comes to mind. All those are great, but this is one of my favorites. This is comfort food to it’s fullest. Cabbage rolls are not uniquely Lebanese. There are other nations that have their own versions. But, this is how the Lebanese make their stuffed cabbage rolls. Specifically, this is how my mom makes it. I may be a little biased, but I think this is the best way to make them. If you think you don’t like cabbage, then give this a try. You won’t even taste the cabbage. The garlic and lemon is mostly what you’ll taste. It’s SO good.
Start off by getting three heads of cabbage. Wash them really well. Take off the outer green first layer. Cut off the ends. In a big pot, boil, one at a time, on high for about an hour. They should still have resistance when a fork is inserted, but the leaves should be more pliable. We have to do this step, because in America, the cabbage is not as pliable as it would be in Lebanon. Don’t know why, but that’s how it is.
While those are boiling, you can soak your rice. Place the rice in a medium sized bowl with enough warm water to cover it by 1/4″. Once you’re done boiling the cabbage, place the heads of cabbage into a big strainer to allow the excess water to drip. While they are drying up, you can put the rice in a sieve so you can dump the water out and rinse the rice thoroughly. While the rice is still in a sieve, place it over a bowl and let the water drip for about 5-10 minutes.
Once the rice is well strained, you can move it to a large bowl.
You’ll need to peel 2 heads of garlic. Yes, two heads of garlic. If you’re not a fan of garlic this isn’t something you’ll want to eat. But we need two heads peeled and ready to go. I ended up having about 26-28 cloves.
Now, dab off with a paper towel any excess juice or blood from the meat and then dump it into the bowl with the rice.
Now, in one large bowl, you should have the meat and rice all together. Now add in the salt, pepper, seven spice, about 8-10 garlic cloves sliced, olive oil and one can of tomato paste.
Give this all a mix until it’s a uniform mixture.
That’s the filling. Now, you can start peeling the cabbage leaves one at a time. Place a few of the roots of the leaves to cover the bottom of your pot. This will help prevent scorching. Also, make sure you cut the tops, because they’re too flimsy and small to roll anything with. Place about a tablespoon or so in the middle of the leaf and roll it tightly, but not too tightly so they break. Begin to place them one by one over the leaves you placed on the bottom of the pot.
Fill it up until it forms the first layer.
Now, add in about 6-8 sliced garlic cloves all over. Add in some mint all over.
Repeat to form another layer. Keep rolling the cabbage rolls until you get another layer. You should receive about 3-4 layers in all, each one with mint and sliced garlic included. With any leftover meat, roll it all into a ball in one leaf and place it on top.
Now, cover with water until it just covers the top of the last layer. Add in salt, pepper, mint and another can of tomato paste. Add in the lemon juice.
Place a heatproof plate bottomside up on top to act as the lid. Weigh it down with either a heatproof glass jar or a big measuring cup filled with water. MAKE SURE YOU DON’T USE PLASTIC. IT WILL BURN. Cook on high for about 30 minutes, then turn it to medium-low and cook for another 2 hours or so. Make sure you taste so you can add more salt and pepper if you need too. Also taste to ensure the leaves are tender. Once they’re tender, the food is done.
It’s not the most appealing dish, but it is one of the tastiest.
HOW TO SERVE: YOU CAN EITHER EAT IT LIKE THIS NORMALLY WITH A FORK OR YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF A SANDWICH BY PLACING A FEW IN A BIG PIECE OF PITA BREAD. DOUBLE UP ON THE BREAD OR IT WILL BREAK AS YOU ROLL. MOST IMPORTANTLY, SQUEEZE SOME LEMON ON THESE! NO MATTER HOW YOU EAT THEM, SOME FRESHLY SQUEEZED LEMON ON THESE REALLY MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.
~~~ Not yelling, just want you to see that note, because I feel it’s important 🙂 ~~~