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Stuffed cabbage rolls is a traditional dish in the Greek cuisine. As its name implies, it is cabbage stuffed with either a mixture of mincemeat and rice or simply rice. In the case of the latter, it is called yalanci dolma which in turn means fake dolma since it is meat-free. This dish has its roots in ancient Greece and it is traditionally served at Christmas tables but also all year around. Though stuffing vegetables is common to many peoples in the Mediterranean and Balkan areas and Russia for a very long time and therefore you can find many variations.
In Greece, mincemeat and rice are mixed and stuffed in cabbage or grape leaves. Although they are cooked in a similar way, they have some differences. Here we are going to show you how to cook lahanodolmades or else stuffed cabbage rolls. The word dolmak arrives from Turkey and means to be stuffed. In Greek, the word lahano means cabbage and dolmades is the plural of the word dolmas which is the stuffed vegetable. So if you put them together (lahano + dolmades), you get the stuffed cabbage rolls. They are also called sarmades. They are called rolls in English because the cabbage is wrapped in an oblong shape similar to the spring rolls.
1 pound mincemeat (mixed pork and beef)
1 chopped onion
½ cup white rice
1 medium head cabbage
Salt, pepper, oregano
Parsley, dill (optional)
With the help of a knife, remove the core of the head cabbage to make peeling the leaves easier.
Place the head cabbage in boiling water, which is previously salted. Let it boil till the leaves are soft enough. Then remove from the pan and place on a large plate or wooden board or any other surface where it will be peeled.
What you need to do is separate the leaves. If they are very big, you can cut them in two. Trim the hard stem or it will not allow you to roll the leave right.
Don’t throw anything away. Use a number of leaves to cover the bottom of the pan. They will protect your stuffed cabbage rolls from getting burned.
While the cabbage is boiling, prepare the mixture to stuff the rolls. Mix the mincemeat with the rice, salt, pepper, the chopped onion, the parsley, the oregano, the dill, and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Mix them well together.
Now, get ready to stuff the cabbage leaves. It’s better to get comfortable because it will take you a while to stuff and roll all cabbage leaves. Prefer the kitchen table and keep the pan, where you will cook the food, close to you. In order to fill the cabbage leaves, use a teaspoon. Keep a small kitchen knife with you in case you need to trim the stems a bit more. Use a clean surface (wood board) to stuff the cabbage leaves.
Use the teaspoon to stuff each cabbage leave. Then fold the top part of the leaf over the mixture, fold the side parts and then roll it till the mixture is encased. How much mixture you spoon depends on the size of each cabbage leaf!
Lay your stuffed cabbage rolls on the leaves you have placed at the bottom of the pan. The rolls will eventually go over the others.
Add some extra salt and pepper. Add at least 4 cups of water and about ½ cup of oil olive.
To keep the rolls from getting unfolded, cover them with a plate. Let them boil for about 50 minutes. Always check there is enough water so that the cabbage leaves won’t stick on the bottom of the pan. Add water if necessary.
Once your food has been cooked for about ½ hour, use a soup spoon to remove about 2 cups of juice.
Beat the two eggs along with the lemon juice and add carefully (spoon by spoon) the juice you removed from your food. What you want to make is an egg-lemon juice. But you need to add the broth gradually in order to mix smoothly while stirring the mixture continuously.
When the food is ready, turn off the stove. Remove the pan from the burner, wait till it’s not very hot, and pour gradually the egg-lemon juice. Get the pan in your hands and move it gently so that the juice will be distributed evenly.
Variations, tips, and advice
Most people use white rice made for soups because it boils easier. But I often use more aromatic types, like Basmati rice.
Some people would prefer to cook the mincemeat and rice before they stuff the cabbage leaves. You can do that too although it is not necessary. If you prefer it this way, stir the onion in a pan with olive oil and add the mincemeat. Add a little bit of water and let it simmer for about 5 minutes before you add the rice and the rest of the ingredients. Let it simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Then you are ready to stuff your cabbage leaves.
It’s important to be careful when you pre-cook the stuffing. You might not want the rice al-dente but not over-cooked either.
You can use one or two chopped onions. It depends on how big the onions are.
If you have some mixture left and no more cabbage rolls to stuff, you can add some more rice and cook it in a pan till both the meat and rice are ready. It will be an extra dish.
Although everyone suggests getting a medium head cabbage, I recommend getting a bigger one. After all, we always throw away the outer leaves since they are usually dirty and use some leaves for the bottom of the pan. And then some leaves get broken or are not peeled the way we want them to.
You can add the herbs you like. For example, spearmint or chili powder. But don’t overdo it because extra herbs will change the flavor of the food.