The Way We Roll

This past week, I decided to give rolling malfoof a try.  Malfoof is the Arabic take on cabbage rolls and it’s always been one of my favorite things to eat. If they’re done right, malfoof can be automatically addictive. Doing malfoof ‘right’ means that each roll is rolled at just the right size ; preferably more on the thin side – think fat cigar. It also means there is a good ratio of garlic flavor to buttery sweet richness with the leaves. The meat/rice mixture should be just the right ratio of meat to rice, with rice taking the lead. The cinnamon shouldn’t be too overpowering, but the overall taste should have a nice peppery bite that compliments the subtle undertone of allspice and cinnamon, and all these flavors should marry perfectly once you’ve added a little acidity with the addition of lemon juice to the final steamed product.

That’s how I remember malfoof.

My first attempt at making malfoof went about as expected. I did a lot less of the work while I learned from my dad and I have a long way to go on the rolling front. All of my leaves rolled way too big and weren’t rolled tightly enough. I’m not sure exactly what I need to do to correct this fact other than more practice.  We also made way too much stuffing. I think the ratio was somewhere in the ballpark of 4ish cups of rice to a pound and a quarter of beef. We rolled two heads of cabbage worth of leaves and there was still about half the stuffing left. We ended up freezing it to use at a later date.

As an added bonus this past week, a few friends joined my dad, brother and me for dinner.  Our lovely friend Yasser was one of those people and he brought and cooked an amazing cut of fish for us all to share.  Yasser has been one person that has consistently inspired me to be a better person – a more creative person. He’s also an incredible cook and I hope to be able to learn a little more from him before heading back to Ethiopia.

1. I have no idea how to taste a dish that is raw to determine whether or not the spicing is right. This might be an obvious solution for some (like my dad who just tried a bit of the stuffing raw. yea. not happening.)

2. I learned that adding a bit of butter to the pot while it’s cooking helps add a little fat and a ton of flavor to the malfoof.

3. Rolling leaves of any kind is hard – for me at least.

4. Food tastes better when you share it with the people you love.

A Tale of Two Cabbages
Boiling Cabbage One Leaf At a Time
Le Stuffing
Let the Rolling Begin!
Rolled and Ready to Go!
Eat up!
It's Fish!
Yasser vs. the Fish - Yasser Wins!
Where My Family Breaks Bread

Recipe of the Week: Malfoof

Since my recent adventure with grape leaves, I decided to keep the rolling streak alive and try my hand at making malfoof this week. Malfoof, or cabbage rolls, are cabbage leaves that have been slightly boiled and then stuffed with a rice/meat mixture and rolled up into cigar-shaped rolls of yumminess. Since I am only making this dish for a few people, I’m hoping the tediousness of the rolling won’t be too bad.

I can’t find an exact recipe for Malfoof in my mama’s cookbook, but I do have the recipe for the rice mixture which is more important anyway. I’m going to include the steps for preparation from Sahtein and the rice/mixture from my mama.

I have so many memories of my family sitting around a given kitchen table, gossiping and picking at a huge pan of perfectly rolled malfoof. They are addictive and I loved eating mine with tons of lemon juice. I would pick through the pile looking for the lighter-colored leaves because those were always sweeter to me than the darker cabbage leaves.  To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference in the taste of the leaves based on the color of the leaves, I was just a weird kid who refused to eat the dark green leaves.

Malfoof is one of those meals that I think tastes better when it’s shared by many because it tastes just as good cold as it does warm. So, when you and your family get caught up in a discussion about why you’re in your thirties and still not married, you can be sure that the malfoof you made will still taste good a couple of hours later.

: )


1 large head of cabbage ( this can vary depending on how many people you’re making it for)

Lemon juice (also varies, but at least the juice from 1 large lemon for dish)

8-12 cloves of whole garlic

Rice/Meat mixture*

Separate the leaves of the cabbage. Put a few leaves at a time in boiling water and boil for about 2 minutes. Once you’ve boiled them all and they’ve cooled down, cut the heavy membrane in the middle of the leaf to make rolling easier. Make sure to keep a few leaves in tact to place at the bottom of the pot to help prevent sticking.

Place a little of the rice mixture in the middle of the leaves (this will depend on the size of the leaf – DO NOT overfill!)  and roll. Make rolls about 1/2″ in diameter and 4″ long (but I’d imagine, again, that this depends on the size of the leaves). Place cabbage rolls side by side and in layers until the pot is full.

Place the whole garlic cloves in between the layers of the rolls. Add boiling water to cover the rolls, add the lemon juice and a bit of salt. Bring to a boil and cook slowly for at least an hour over low heat and until water is gone.

Let stand for about 10 minutes and then flip the pot onto a large pan for presentation.

Rice/Meat mixture

1 cup rice

1 lb. of coarsely ground meat (lamb or beef – I’m using beef)





Vegetable oil – about 2 tbsp.

Make sure to wash the rice several times to get the starch out and then add all the ingredients together.  Use for stuffing.

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