Malfouf is much easier to prepare than stuffed grape leaves or zucchini (kousa mahshi) as the leaves are larger and quicker to roll up.
Even the stuffing is quite easy to make consisting of meat rice and a few spices.
Malfouf can also be prepared with a vegetarian stuffing similar to waraq enab b'zeit (vegan stuffed grape leaves).
If you want to make this version just use the vegan grape leaves stuffing on this link instead of the meat one.
You can make malfouf with any cabbage leaf that lets you roll it up but I have used the very large cabbages found in Middle Eastern grocery stores.
One of these cabbages weighs more than a kilo and they give you a lot of big wide leaves perfect for stuffing.
Alternatively you can use chinese leaf cabbage or sweetheart cabbage as they are supple and have a thin texture.
Something like savoy cabbage would be too difficult to roll up.
The most difficult bit is probably separating the leaves making sure you don't rip them as you do so.
Then you have to blanche them in hot water for about five minutes until they go soft and lighter in colour.
I also trim the stalks off and divide the very large ones in half so they are no bigger than the size of my whole hand.
I then stack them on top of each other so they are ready to be stuffed and rolled and stacked again in the pot.
The meat and rice stuffing
Most people like to use ground beef as it is less fatty than lamb when it cooks.
However I am a lamb fan and so I use both lamb and beef to get a nice flavour.
You will notice that most mahashi (stuffed vegetables) use short grain rice as it soaks up the flavour better than long grain varieties.
I also add some tomato concentrate to the stuffing as well as seven spice, black pepper and a bit of cinnamon.
Malfouf is a subtly flavoured dish and you shouldn't overdo it with the spices or add something crazy like chilli.
You can also layer the bottom of the pot with lamb chops if you want to be extra fancy and want to create a wow moment for your guests as you flip over the pot onto a large platter.
However I would flash fry the lamb chops off in a separate pan to reduce the greasy taste.
How to roll the cabbage leaves
Cabbage leaves are so easy to roll as you literally put the stuffing on and just roll upwards
No fancy side techniques required. No fiddly bits like grape leaves.
Simply roll and stack tightly.
I've even made a video to show you how easy it is.
Well actually my mum was rolling them and I was filming because I can't do everything at once. Ha!
Tips for making the best malfouf
Now here are the secret tips to making amazing life changing malfouf as opposed to average bla malfouf no one remembers.
Get a whole bulb of garlic (yes a whole head of garlic), peel them and slice them roughly longways. Then scatter them between the layers of cabbage rolls.
Make a brine of salty water approximately two teaspoons to two cups of water and a lemon, and pour it on top of the malfouf to cover.
You need to taste this brine as this will tell you how salty or lemony the overall dish will be, so adjust it as necessary.
When you bring the malfouf to the boil (after about twenty minutes) reduce the heat to a simmer and add a good drizzle of regular olive oil and another good drizzle of pomegranate molasses
Finally add a pinch of dried mint and simmer for a good hour
Before you switch off the heat, take one cabbage roll and taste it to see if everything is done.
Malfouf Mahshi (Stuffed Cabbage rolls)
Cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice and cooked with garlic and mint
- 1 very large cabbage or 2 medium
- Boiling water for blanching
- 2 cups short grain rice
- 300 g ground beef or lamb or mix of both
- ½ tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon seven spice
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup regular olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato concentrate
- 1 bulb of garlic peeled
- 2 cups of water + 2 teaspoon of salt + 1 lemon
- 2 -3 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- ½ teaspoon of dried mint
Carefully separate the cabbage leaves trying not to rip them. Then in batches, add them to a pot of boiling water
Simmer for around five minutes until soft and set aside.
When they have cooled, trim off the thick stems (you can layer the bottom of the pot with these), and divide the very large leaves into half so they are no bigger than your hand
In a mixing bowl, add the ground meat, rice, seven spice, black pepper, cinnamon, ¼ cup of regular olive oil, the tomato concentrate and salt. Combine well and place on the table
On a large plate, flatten out a cabbage leaf
Take around 2 tablespoons of the stuffing and arrange in a cigar shape near the bottom of the cabbage leaf and simply roll up (see video)
Peel a whole bulb of garlic and roughly slice. Scatter the garlic between the layers of cabbage rolls
Prepare the brine by mixing 2 cups of water with 2 tsps of salt, and the juice of a whole lemon
When you have finished rolling the cabbage leaves, place a heatproof plate on top and pour over the brine water
Bring to the boil on high heat for around 20 minutes. Taste the brine water to see if you need to adjust the lemon/salt levels.
Remove the plate and then reduce the heat to a medium low simmer and add a good drizzle of regular olive oil and another of pomegranate molasses, as well as the dried mint
Cover with a lid and cook for another hour or so until the cabbage leaves are well done, tasting one malfouf roll before you turn the heat off
If you enjoyed making this recipe, leave us a star rating below and let us know how it went.
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My aunt used to add Mahlab to the mix 🙂
So delicious, do you have a vegetarian version?
Hi... what can I use in place of the pomegranate molasses?
You could also use tamarind?
This looks delicious! I'm going to try making them next week, but what would one serve with this for dinner? Thanks!
I haven’t come across a better malfouf recipe
Really yummy, made these twice now. The first time I just use lamb and now the second time I'm using beef and lamb really excited to Taste the Difference I find this super super yummy the only question I have is it doesn't say where or when you put the tomato puree into the recipe.
Add it to the rice mixture! x
We made this yesterday and it turned out just like our grandma used to make it for us when we were children. It was so easy to follow and your tips were spot on. Fantastic. Thank you for sharing this recipe with us.
From my grandma to yours 🙂 xxx
Your column is always inspiring me to make the food of my NYC youth.
I am following my mother's recipe for malfoof which were larger diameter (1" - 1½") than the ones you describe.
At the table we would add dried mint to the split-open rolls and top with brown butter.
Leban (plain yogurt) was served on the side.
I love those finishing touches! xx
Thank you for all the yummy recipes.
Thank you for sharing a family recipe.
I’ve been searching for a malfouf recipe. Yours read better than any others, and the taste … simply amazing. I followed your instructions to a T, but found that short grain sticky rice does not cook at the same rate as other short grain rices. It would probably have helped if I had soaked it for a while ahead of time. Yet, despite the crunch, my taste buds were blown away.
The vegetarian version came out great, thanks! I'm not much of a mahashi meat fan. I used your stuffing recipe for the warak ineb b'zeit. The garlic and dried mint differentiate this dish from warak ineb, both delicious!
I'm a grandpa now but after all the years and teaching my children how to make cabbage rolls it pleasing to see that you make them like we do. Thank you for sharing with us and all the non Lebanese people.
Made this 3 days ago & was so delicious! Thank you for all you share!
Thanks for sharing, this recipe never fails. You can also take the core out the cabbage and put this in a Dutch oven (filled a quarter way with water) over the stove and simmer for 20-30 mins before blanching. This makes it easier to remove leaves of cabbage without tearing.
So far the best recipe for Malfouf Mahshi!! Thank you so much for sharing.
This is the only way I like to eat cabbage it’s so delicious
This was delicious! However, I did not have enough meat for two cabbages. I feel there
should be twice the amount of meat.
I’ll be honest I’ve not made it yet but i love 2/2 of your others which I’ve made and taste so authentic … Thank you for sharing!!
I would love to know if there is a type of short grain rice that you recommend…sticky? I think not. I usually only have basmati on hand so i would buy separately for this. Having made other cabbage + rice + meat recipes using basmati, i think it imparts too much of it’s own flavour into the dishes to be best.
I look forward to making this!
Also known as Egyptian rice!
The most authentic and traditional Lebanese food site I have ever come across, with recipes that are spot on. Absolutely sending many thanks to Yosra and her family for sharing outstanding dishes. My wife is Lebanese and says it's like eating her late mothers food. A fantastic 10/10!
Thank you for your heartfelt comments, they keep us going!