Malfoof (stuffed cabbage leaves) is one of my favorite forms of enjoying a stuffed vegetable. And trust me, in Middle Eastern cooking, we stuff lots of veggies! In Arabic, malfoof means “cabbage” and can often be written as malfouf as well, referring to these stuffed cabbage rolls as malfouf mahshi.
My mom would especially make these during the winter or early spring when cabbage is more so in season. Malfoof to us has always been a comforting, homey dish we often served in the cooler months. There are so many different preparations for this dish meal dependent on the region making it. Almost every country in the Middle East has its twist on it with various seasonings or methods. European countries also make stuffed cabbage too! Today, I’m sharing my mother’s way of a Palestinian malfouf recipe.
Why try Malfoof (stuffed cabbage leaves)?
- They are easier to make than their counterpart. I am referring to stuffed grape leaves. Although still time-consuming, the rolling process is much faster.
- This is the perfect make-ahead, crowd-pleasing dish. You can prepare the pot of stuffed cabbage rolls 2-3 days in advance and keep it in the fridge. You can even prepare the stuffing one day and the cabbage the next.
- You don’t need to necessarily serve it with anything but a wedge of lemon and plain yogurt. It is a stand-alone dish that speaks volumes in flavor.
- It tastes fantastic. The cabbage becomes tender as it cooks on the stovetop, and you will smell that aromatic filling. Everything together is just so good.
Preparation of Cabbage for Malfouf
There are several ways to prepare the cabbage to ensure the leaves are tender enough to roll. This part for many may seem intimidating, but I will guide you through it the way I have always done it as well, my mother.
- First, we must boil a large, wide pot of salted water. I also add a dash of cumin to the water. The cumin is meant to reduce the idea of cabbage causing bloating later and adds a subtle taste and smell.
- Next, we must make four deep cuts into the cabbage surrounding the stem, just like a square. You can see the picture below for reference. Doing this will make it much easier for the leaves to fall off as they boil. I keep the stem intact, but you can also remove it.
- Gently lower the cabbage into the boiling water. You can place a large fork into the stem area of the cabbage before dropping it into the water or after. The fork will give you more leverage in balancing the cabbage when submerged to remove the leaves. Nearby I keep a set of tongs and a large platter.
- After just about 10-15 min, you will notice the outer leaves of the cabbage slowly starting to come off. This is where those deep cuts play their part. Help take it off using a tong to lift it off the cabbage and onto a tray. Repeat until you are down to what looks like a mini cabbage head.
- Once complete, lay the cabbage leaf onto a cutting board and cut around the stem; one cabbage leaf will give you two cabbage rolls. Once cut on each side of the stem, leave you with two leaves to stuff. You can see a photo for reference in the recipe card.
- At this point, the leaves are ready to be stuffed!
How to prepare the filling for Malfoof (stuffed cabbage rolls)
Preparing the filling is the easiest part! There are a few key ingredients:
- Ground Beef/Lamb: I mention beef and lamb because they are preferred. You can use one or the other or 50/50. I typically do 50/50 with all beef.
- Rice: The rice of choice should be white short to medium-grain rice. You can also get away with using long-grain white rice if that is all in your pantry. Ensure it is soaked and rinsed well before adding it to the filling.
- Tomatoes & Onions: These two vegetables will go into the filling, adding lots of flavor to the stuffing. Both are finer dice.
- Spices: In my filling, I enjoy using Seven spice but you can use Allspice as a substitute. I also add turmeric for a bit of color and cumin for taste and its natural qualities of relieving some bloat that cabbage may cause. Of course, salt generously and pepper.
- Olive oil: This helps bind everything together while giving fantastic flavor to the filling and allows for it to stay moist.
The Last few steps:
All that is left to do at this point is stuff and roll the cabbage leaves. This part isn’t as hard as it is for dawali (stuffed grape leaves) because there is no tucking in the sides. You quite literally fold over the tbsp of filling and roll! You can see an image of this in the recipe card.
Then, you would saute an entire garlic head in olive oil in the pot you plan to use. I recommend a non-stick or stainless steel pot. Add some leftover cabbage leaves as a protective layer for the stuffed cabbage rolls and start stacking them next to each other.
Lastly, make the cooking liquid the broth the cabbage rolls will cook in. Pour that on top of the rolls, and add a heat-proof plate or cooking stone to keep them in place as they cook plus, it offers a more even cooking. The broth should submerge by rolls by about an inch.
Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer for 2.5 hours. These stuffed cabbage rolls will melt in your mouth, and your entire house will smell fantastic. Serve with yogurt and lemon to cut through the richness of the dish.
If you enjoy this recipe, please let me know by leaving a rating and review below. I also love to hear from you and see your remakes on my Instagram page!
Malfoof (Stuffed Cabbage Leaves)
- 2 large Cabbage heads Green
- Boiling water
- Dash of Salt & Cumin to season boiling water
- 1 lb Ground Beef (80/20) or Ground Lamb or 50/50
- 3 cups White Rice short, medium, or long grain
- 2 Tomatoes Finely chopped
- 1 Onion Finely chopped
- 2 tbsp Seven Spice
- 1/2 tbsp Ground Turmeric
- 1/2 tbsp Ground Cumin
- Salt & Pepper to taste Be generous enough with the salt (1.5 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper relatively)
- 1/2 cup Olive oil
- 1 tbsp Tomato Paste
- 1 tbsp Red pepper paste (shatta) optional
- Boiling Water
- Salt Start with 1 tsp then taste broth
- 1 tsp Ground Cumin
- 1 head Fresh Garlic chopped
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 Bouillon cube, crushed
- Create deep cuts with a sharp knife around the stem of the cabbage. This will allow for the cabbage leaves to fall off the core easily.
- In a large pot, add water 3/4 of the way and sprinkle salt and cumin. Bring water to a boil.
- Gently place the cabbage head into the water and use a large fork to keep hold of the cabbage as it is placed under the water. The leaves will start to fall off within minutes. Grab them gently with a tong and place them in a large platter next to you.
- For the filling, mix together all its ingredients well.
- Next, prep your work station. You will need a cutting board and sharp knife along with the tray of cabbage leaves, the bowl of filling, and a clean tray for the stuffed cabbage rolls.
- First, place the cabbage leaf onto the cutting board and cut alongside the white stem in the center to form two leaves. Don't throw out the center but rather save to make my cabbage soup and line the bottom of the pot with.
- Add 1-1 1/2 tbsp of filling onto one side of each leaf depending on the size of the leaf.
- Roll it tightly and repeat.
- Set aside on the clean platter and repeat this step until all the leaves are stuffed.
- Saute an entire garlic head in 2 tbsp of olive oil in the bottom of the pot that will be used to stack the leaves in.
- Once the garlic is fragrant and lightly browned, sprinkle salt & pepper. Add the extra pieces of the cabbage that was trimmed or leftover cabbage leaves too. Mix together and cook for a few minutes. Shut off the heat and let the pot cool a bit for layering the stuffed cabbage.
- Begin stacking the cabbage rolls tightly next to one another in the pot on top of the sauteed garlic and lefotver cabbage.
- Mix together the tomato paste, chilli paste, boiling water, cumin, boullion cube, olive oil, and salt for the cooking liquid.
- Pour the liquid on top of the stuffed cabbage leaves until they are just covered completely plus an extra inch.
- Place a plate on top fitting to the pot. Bring to a boil then cover the pot and simmer for 2.5 hours until the cabbage is super tender. Serve alongside yogurt & lemon wedges. Enjoy!