Lebanese Malfouf – Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Meat and Rice

Cabbage Roll collage_01

Arabic; Middle Eastern: malfouf means – cabbage and rolled or Mih-sheh Malfouf for stuffed cabbage.

Culture: Traditional Lebanese

Involves rolling cabbage leaves with a stuffing of ground meat, rice, 7-spices, then stacking them in a cooking pot in layers with garlic in between, and then simmering them on low heat in a sauce made with lemon juice, Sautéed minced garlic, water and salt.

Prep time:  70 mins

Cook time:  90 mins

Total time:  2 hours 40 mins

Inspiration and Information: Mama’s Lebanese Kitchen


(Dish and photos by Chef Bobby Lavon)


Here’s my version

  • 1 Cabbage head (4 lbs)
  • 1 lb of lean ground beef
  • 1 lb of Italian ground sausage
  • 1 cup of rice, rinsed, dried
  • 1 roma tomato, small diced
  • ½ green or other color bell pepper, small diced
  • 1 carrot, small diced
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 lemons, freshly squeezed
  • 1 or 2 cups, Swiss cheese
  • 1-2 teaspoons of 7 spices
  • 3 table spoons of olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt and cracked pepper, to taste


  1. A 4 lbs cabbage head should yield around 30-35 rolled cabbage leaves depending on how big the leaves are.
  2. Pit out the large stem from the bottom of the cabbage as in the photo above. This will help the leaves get separated easier.
  3. To separate the leaves, simmer the entire cabbage head in a large pot of boiling water for 5-10 minutes while carefully turning it over to ensure exposure to all of its sides.
  4. As the leaves loosen, pin down the cabbage inside the pot with one fork, and with another fork slowly peel away the leaves one after the other. Do this slowly and carefully so you don’t hurt yourself with boiling water, and to also ensure that leaves are whole and not torn.
  5. Place the cabbage leaves in a colander as you peel them. Please note that if you try to peel leaves of a raw cabbage they’ll very likely break and tear.
  6. Once you’ve separated all leaves, try to roll one or two of them to see if they are soft enough. If not, and if they tear or break, put them back in the boiling water pot and cook them for another 5 minutes.
  7. Mix the ground beef, ground sausage, cheese, pepper, carrot, tomato, with the rice, 1 to 2 teaspoons of Lebanese 7-spices, vegetables as well as ½ teaspoon of salt to taste. Mix them well and set aside.
  8. Lay each cabbage leaf separately on a cutting board, cut out the stem if it’s too thick. Spread 1 to 2 table spoons of meat stuffing along the edge of the leaf , then roll it slowly and tightly over the meat all the way.
  9. Line up the stuffed rolls carefully in a wide/deep cooking pot one by the other in a compact manner until you’ve completed a layer which you will garnish with a few chopped cloves of garlic. Place the rolls with the greenest leaves on the bottom of the pot since they need more heat/longer to cook.
  10. Roll all the leaves and place them in the pot in this manner while placing garlic cloves in between the layers. You may end up with 2 to 4 layers of rolls, depending on how wide the cooking pot is.
  11. In a frying pan, sauté 10-15 cloves of freshly minced or crushed garlic (one head) with 3 table spoons of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice until they start to turn light brown then dump the entire content on top of the cooking pot.
  12. Squeeze 4 lemons, mix them with 4 cups of water, and ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt (to taste), then add them to the cooking pot. The sauce should cover the rolls and if not, add more water until it does.
  13. Carefully shake/tilt the cooking pot sideways a few times to ensure the sauce seeps through everywhere and that the fried garlic also mixes well with the sauce (or you can mix them in advance).
  14. Place a heavy plate inside the pot, on top of the rolls, cover the pot, and turn on the stove on high heat for about 5-10 minutes until they boil, at which time you turn heat to very low and let them simmer slowly for 1 to 1.5 hours (until the cabbage is fully cooked and is no longer crunchy – time may vary, however you should be left with a bit of sauce on the bottom don’t let it dry up).
  15. Serve hot with an optional side of plain Greek yogurt and an optional squeeze of lemon juice.

Sauce: If you are fine with a strong lemon flavor; this dish doesn’t need a sauce. For those of you who want a balance of flavors, here’s a great combination to use!

Malfouf Sauce for 6 rolls:

2 tablespoons, Soy Sauce

2 tablespoons, Sriracha Sauce

A few shakes, Frank’s Red Hot

Note: You may end up with tiny leaves that can’t be rolled or with other fragments from the cabbage head. Don’t throw them away. You can make a nice spicy saute of cabbage and onions called “Marshousheh.”


Introduction to Lebanese Cuisine

Author: Elie Nassar (FoodMan)

Lebanese Pantry

The following are the most common Lebanese food items found in almost every home. You certainly do not need to have all of them as this list is meant to give you an idea of the items typically used in Lebanese cooking.

Spices and Herbs: The two major herbs used are Mint (fresh and dried) and Parsley. Parsley is only used in its fresh state, never dried. Spices include Cinnamon, Cumin, Allspice and Coriander. Sumac, with its nice tangy taste and wonderful maroon color, is also a very popular spice. Sumac is used to flavor salads as well as grilled meats and sauces.

Tahini: Tahini is a paste made from toasted sesame seeds. It is used in many dishes and sauces such as Taratoor Bi Tahini and Hummus Bi Tahini. It is also mixed with grape or carob molasses to make a sweet snack with flat pita bread.

Bread: The bread here is not your everyday American white or wheat bread it is flat Pita bread. This is a staple and makes an appearance at almost every meal. No Lebanese home is complete without it!!! Lebanese bread is a round thin flat bread about 10 inches in diameter and it has two sides, a red one and a white one. The two sides can be pulled apart to create a pocket that can be stuffed with all kinds of foods. It is used to make sandwiches or wraps. It is also used as a scoop for dips, meat, or any food on the table.

Legumes: These include chickpeas, white beans, red beans and lentils (red and brown).

Burghul: Another Lebanese staple, it is basically wheat kernels that are boiled, dried and then ground into small crumbles. The two textures of Burghul I use are the medium grind (for pilafs) and the fine grind (for stuff like Kibbeh).

Rose water (ma warid) and orange blossom water (ma zahir): These are mainly used in desserts. Rose water is extracted from a very fragrant pink rose called wardi el Jooriya. Orange blossom water, as the name indicates, is extracted from orange blossoms.

Plain Yogurt: Needs no introduction and is usually found in all homes. Yogurt is either homemade or store bought. It is used as-is, in cooking, as a sauce base or to make a delicious yogurt cheese called Labneh.

Rice: Mainly white rice.

Fats: Olive oil, butter, Samen which is clarified butter and is used for cooking everything from rice to meats to scrambled eggs. It has a delicious nutty buttery flavor.

Flour: White flour, Semolina.


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