Lebanese malfouf is cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, fresh vegetables and herbs. Then cooked in a deliciously minty sour evaporated broth. This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.
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What is Malfouf?
The word “cabbage” in Arabic is “malfouf" which is also the word for “rolled”. Malfouf is also the word used to name this recipe which is “malfouf mahshi” or “stuffed cabbage”.
This meal comes in variations across the Middle East in flavors and ingredients. There are of course other variations from different parts of the world, which have different names.
😋Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- The taste is delectably sour and minty
- Dietary friendly - vegan, gluten-free, soy free, corn-free. This would be referred to as “vegetarian malfouf” by a lot of Middle Easterners
- It’s fun - the rolling process of making is therapeutic - helps to clear busy minds. It can also be a great way to share time with someone and catch up with them for chit-chat. I enjoy this with my mom.
🍛Ingredients You’ll Need
Notes on some of the ingredients, the full list of ingredients and quantities can be found in the recipe card below.
1 head of cabbage (select either common green aka cannonball or Chinese varieties) the thicker parts will be cooked as the base in the pot whilst the leaves will be cooked as the stuffed vegan cabbage rolls.
White rice (I prefer to use basmati), medium or long-grain rice work well too.
Garlic adds a delightful depth to the flavoring, a whole head is used.
Pomegranate Molasses - one of the main flavoring that gives a wonderful sweet-sour taste, I don't recommend skipping this ingredient. It can be found at your local Middle Eastern grocer or online (affiliate link).
Cumin - only a pinch is needed, too much will result in a bitter flavor
Water - to be used as needed to cover the outer edges of the plate placed on top of the malfouf - see video.
🔪How To Make Malfouf
Making these vegan cabbage rolls is fairly easy albeit a tad time-consuming. It’s generally done in four parts.
- Preparing the leaves.
- Preparing the rice filling, known in Arabic as hashweh.
- Frying the base of this meal
- Rolling and then cooking.
Preparing the Cabbage
Step 1 - Carefully cut the outer leaves off the head at the base of the stalk and then cut the head ¾ down (not lengthways - see video/pics).
Pry apart the leaves from the top half and stack onto on each other
Cut Malfouf about ¾ down (not lengthways)
Step 2 - Sort the leaves by those with big stalks and those without.
For the leaves with the big stalks, trace and cut out the stalks and set the stalks aside separately with the leaves off the base.
Step 3 - In a large pot, bring water to a boil, add leaves and boil them until they are tender enough to roll (no more than 5 minutes).
Take leaves out and set them aside in a tray to allow them to cool down
Step 4 - Cut up the stalks into chunky bite-sized pieces and set these aside
Chopped stalks for the base
Preparing the Hashweh (rice filling)
(Pre-soak rice at room temperature for 15 minutes, then drain well. Soaking rice helps to rid extra starch and keeps it from turning to mush)
Step 5 - In a large mixing bowl, add drained rice, fresh mint, fresh parsley, tomatoes, onion, olive oil, 7 spice, cumin, black pepper, garlic, salt, and dried mint. Mix all together and set aside.
All ingredients in the hashweh (rice filling) should be finely diced, as anything chunky will be hard to wrap and tear the malfouf leaves.
Step 6 - In a large pot, heat up olive oil and dairy-free butter over high heat and add onion. Fry until golden, then add stalks, pomegranate molasses, and 2 cups of water.
Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to low, allow to simmer for about 15 minutes. (Simmer whilst you roll the leaves)
Rolling Malfouf Leaves
Step 7 - Lay each leaf flat and add approximately one tablespoon amount of rice filling parallel to an edge of the leaf leaving a once centimeter (⅓") gap from the perimeter (this will become the flap)
Fold the flap of the leaf over the rice and then fold the outer short edges of the cabbage leaf to create the base of the parcel roll. Now roll the entire leaf into a roll. Set aside.
Do this until all leaves are used.
Step 8 - Add rolled malfouf into the pot on top of the base. Alternate the layer directions.
Sprinkle the topping on top of the layers.
Place a heat-proof plate on top, and push down with your hand. The water from the should submerge the outer edge of the plate. If not, add water as needed.
Do a taste test of the water and adjust the salt as needed.
Bring malfouf mahshi to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to low-med and cook until rice in rolls are cooked, approximately 30-45 minutes.
Serve with freshly squeezed lemon juice
⭐ Pro Tips
The photos within this recipe show Chinese cabbage.
Place boiled leaves in a colander to remove excess water.
Use smaller pieces of leaf to mend larger ripped pieces by layering on top before rolling.
Adding too much rice filling to a leaf can tear the rolls when they are cooking as the rice will expand. Add a spoonful size according to the size of the leaf. No two leaves will be the same.
Add the darker leaf rolls at the bottom of the pot when layering. As these are the older leaves and can take more heat to cook.
The weight of the plate on top of the malfouf mahshi ensures the layers and rolls stay intact and don’t move around whilst boiling.
Always adjust the salt in this recipe to taste. Malfouf has a subtle taste.
Once these malfouf vegan cabbage rolls are cooked, the water in the pot should have evaporated and only a tiny amount should be left.
Any leftover rice can be cooked separately on its own as a separate meal. Cook it as you would cook the type of white rice used in the filling.
Once cooled down to room temperature, place it into an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to five days. Reheat as needed.
Either cannonball or Chinese cabbages are ideal for making malfouf. It is important to use a whole head, as the leaves need to be intact and not pre-cut. As cabbages vary in weight and size, the number of pieces stipulated within this recipe is only indicative.
Vegan Lebanese cabbage rolls can be enjoyed on their own with fresh spring onion (scallion) - this really brings out the flavor.
Or with a fresh simple salad such as one of Lebanon's national salads - fattoush.
- Warak enab is a Lebanese meal of lemony stuffed vine leaves
- Lebanese Spinach Stew Sabanegh wa riz - a hearty, warming, and delicious stew reading in under 30 minutes
- Pearl Couscous Lebanese Moghrabieh - a spiced aromatic filling meal
- Barley Porridge - a savoury curried porridge that's big on taste. Wonderful for cooler weather
- Try Braised Red Cabbage by About Annella or Healthy Cabbage Soup by Fresh Coast Eats.
- For a light dessert try Muhalabia.
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Malfouf (Vegan Lebanese Cabbage Rolls)
- 1 Cabbage Chinese or Cannonball. This will be used to roll and the stalks will be used in the base of the pot when cooking the rolls.
- Water to boil the cabbage leaves in
Cabbage base (to be put into the base of the pot)
- 1 medium Brown onion diced
- 2 tablespoon Olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tablespoon dairy free butter
- 1 tablespoon Pomegranate molasses
- 2 cups Water
Hashweh (rice filling)
- 2 cups Basmati rice or medium or long-grain rice
- 1 tablespoon Fresh mint finely chopped (heaped spoonful)
- ½ small Brown onion finely diced
- 1½ tsp Salt or to taste
- 3 tablespoon Parsley finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Lebanese 7 spice sub - all spice
- ½ teaspoon Cumin
- ½ teaspoon Black pepper cracked
- 1 tsp Dried mint powder format
- 2 tablespoon Olive oil extra virgin
- ½ head Garlic crushed
- 1 med Tomato Ripe and finely diced
- 1 tablespoon Dairy free butter sub - olive oil
- ½ teaspoon Dried mint
- 1 teaspoon Salt or to taste
- 1 pinch Cumin
- ½ head Garlic sliced
- 1 small Lemon juice fresh
- ½ cup Water Or enough to just cover the edges of the plate when pushed down
- Soak rice in room temperature water (for at least 15 minutes)2 cups Basmati rice
- Cut the outer leaves and roughly chop up. Set aside in a bowl1 Cabbage
- Cut the cabbage about ¾ down from the top (not lengthways). Cut away the larger stalks from the loose leaves and stack leaves on top of each other. Chop up the cut stalks and add them to the stalk bowl in step 1
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil and place cabbage leaves in. Boil them until tender and just malleable. Carefully place leaves in a colander and allow to cool down.Water
Preparing hashweh (rice filling)
- In a large mixing bowl, add drained rice, fresh mint, fresh parsley, tomatoes, onion, olive oil, 7 spice, cumin, black pepper, garlic, salt, dried mint. Mix all together and set aside.2 cups Basmati rice, 1 tablespoon Fresh mint, ½ small Brown onion, 1½ teaspoon Salt, 3 tablespoon Parsley, 1 teaspoon Lebanese 7 spice, ½ teaspoon Cumin, ½ teaspoon Black pepper, 1 teaspoon Dried mint, 2 tablespoon Olive oil, ½ head Garlic, 1 med Tomato
Preparing Cabbage Base
- In a large pot, heat up olive oil and dairy-free butter over high heat and add onion. Fry until golden, then add cabbage stalks, pomegranate molasses, and 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to low, allow to simmer for about 15 minutes.1 medium Brown onion, 2 tablespoon Olive oil, 1 tablespoon dairy free butter, 1 tablespoon Pomegranate molasses, 2 cups Water
Preparing Cabbage Rolls
- Lay each cabbage leaf flat and add a spoonful amount of rice filling parallel to an edge of the leaf leaving a once centimetre gap (this will become the flap) Fold the flap of the cabbage leaf over the rice and then fold the outer short edges of the cabbage leaf to create the base parcel. Now roll the entire leaf into a roll. Set aside. Do this until all cabbage leaves are used.
Cooking Cabbage Rolls
- Add rolled cabbage leaves into the pot on top of the cabbage base. Alternating the layer directions. Sprinkle all topping ingredients on top of the layers of cabbage rolls. Place a heatproof plate on top and push down with your hand. The water from the cabbage base should submerge the outer edge of the plate. If not, add water.1 tablespoon Dairy free butter, ½ teaspoon Dried mint, 1 teaspoon Salt, 1 pinch Cumin, ½ head Garlic, ½ cup Water, 1 small Lemon juice
- Bring malfouf to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to low-med and cook for 30-45 minutes. Serve with freshly squeezed lemon juice
N.B., nutrition info is an estimate based on an online nutrition calculator. This will vary based on the specific ingredients you use.