Greek stuffed cabbage (lazy version)

21 Feb 2017

A childhood favourite and classic Greek winter dish: lahanodolamdes (cabbage dolma).

A ‘dolma’ is a leaf parcel stuffed with a filling of spiced rice or a rice/meat mixture - variations are popular throughout the Caucasus and Middle East. A Greek ‘lahano-dolmas’ uses white cabbage and a lemon/egg mix (avgolemono) to thicken the sauce. Making the little leaf parcels is fiddly and time-consuming though, so my (full-time working) mum used to do this 'lazy' version.

 

Ingredients:

white cabbage, spring onion, some aromatic herbs (dill, parsley and mint, ideally, and/or a few fennel or cumin seeds), minced meat, short grain white rice (use a bit less than half the amount of rice to meat), vegetable stock (or water), eggs, lemon juice, olive oil

 

How to:

Remove the outer layer of leaves from the cabbage, carve out the tough stalk at the bottom and shred finely (I used half of a medium sized head).

Pile into the bottom of a large pan, season with salt & pepper, add chopped spring onion and herbs.

Optional: You can easily ‘hide’ more vegetables in here: a finely sliced carrot, leek or fennel bulb all add to the taste.Add a glug or two of olive oil and stock to cover ¾ of the vegetable layer in the pot

In the meantime, mix up the mince and rice with seasoning, herbs and a bit of olive oil to make a ‘dough’; form small meatballs (think apricot size or so) and sit them on top of the bed of cabbage. Cover tightly and bring to the boil, let it simmer for 30-40 mins until the cabbage (and the rice) are tender.

Finish the dish with avgolemono sauce (this needs a bit careful attention as it can curdle if too hot):

Take the pan off the heat and let sit for 5 mins (to let the temperature drop below boiling point). Whisk the eggs with the lemon juice (I used 2 eggs and juice of 1 lemon for about a litre of liquid).

Take a ladleful of the cooking liquid and slowly pour into the egg mix while whisking constantly. Mix in a second ladleful, then a third, again slowly and whisking constantly (the idea is that the mixture does not get too hot by suddenly adding lots of very hot liquid). Now pour the warm egg mix into the pot, shaking it to combine. Leave to stand for 5 more minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. Scatter more herbs and fresh black pepper on top and serve. (For a really thick sauce add a tsp of cornflower to the egg mix)

 

To make proper dolma parcels:

Pre-boil the whole cabbage in salted water for 10 mins or so until the leaves soften and open up, so that you can pull the leaves apart one by one. Cut out the thick core of the outer leaves (so you end up with two halves of soft leaf). Place a spoonful or two of the meat/rice mix in the middle of each leaf and roll up to form a parcel. Place seam side down in your pot. Continue filling and rolling up each leaf until you have used up all the stuffing mix. Sit the rolls tightly in your pot, if you need to add a second layer spread out a cabbage leaf in between.Continue as above, adding stock or water to cover 3/4 of the pot contents, cook until tender and make the sauce as above.

 

Another cheat version:

You can also layer a pot with cabbage leaves and the meat/rice mix, like a lasagne, then proceed to cook and top with egg-lemon sauce as above. This saves on making the meatballs but requires to pre-cook the cabbage to get the soft, flat leaves you need for layering. Down to preference; more suited to a meat-free version (see below).

 

Meat free:

I'm not up to speed about the best way to make rice stick together on its own as balls, so, in the meantime, for a meat-free version I would suggest 'proper' cabbage rolls using herby rice as a stuffing or the layered cheat-version above. If you don't want to use eggs for the sauce, use lemon juice for zing and a bit of cornflour to thicken.

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