Cabbage rolls “malfoof”

Malfouf is a traditional Syrian dish which involves rolling cabbage leaves with a stuffing of ground meat, rice, 7-spices (of course), 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, fried minced garlic, water and salt.

Malfouf is much easier to prepare than stuffed grape leaves or zucchini (kousamahshi) 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 waraqenabb'zeit (vegan stuffed grape leaves.


This is a healthy, delicious recipe and it makes a good dish for  the colder months! In Syria  they are often eaten garnished with pomegranate molasses, with some roast meat on the side. Some people like to eat them as they are; others like them with Arabic flatbread or sliced potatoes. In some houses this recipe is prepared together with other stuffed vegetable dishes, such as yabrak or stuffed courgette.



    1 Cabbage head (4 lbs)

    ¾th lb of lean ground beef (~ 350 grams)

    1 cup of rice, rinsed, dried

    3 heads of garlic, freshly peeled

    4 lemons, freshly squeezed

    1-2 teaspoons of 7 spices

    3 tablespoons of olive oil

    Salt to taste



Peel and discard the outer leaves of the cabbage.

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.

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.

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.

Mix the ground beef with the rice, 1 to 2 teaspoons of Syrian 7-spices (or Allspice) to taste as well as ½ teaspoon of salt to taste. Mix them well and set aside.

Lay each cabbage leaf separately on a cutting board, cut out the stem if it's too thick. Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of meat stuffing along the edge of the leaf , then roll it slowly and tightly over the meat all the way.

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.

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.

In a frying pan, saute 10-15 cloves of freshly minced or crushed garlic (one head) with 3 tablespoons 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.

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.

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).

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).

Serve hot with an optional side of plain Arabic yogurt and an optional squeeze of lemon juice.


Lara Khouli