Malfouf: lamb and rice rollies, Palestinian style

Fancy something different today? A new way to get the kids to eat cabbage, perhaps? Something delicious but not too heavy on the meat?

The cabbage was sweet, fresh, and still had bite despite being cooked twice, and the flavours were warm, not at all hot spice, with the hint of braised lamb.

Because i don’t buy supermarket meat at all any more, I don’t have access to lamb mince, so instead I stripped two pieces of scrag end of neck that had come from a box of lamb obtained from my mum, a Lake District smallholder. It was laborious and time consuming, especially mincing it with a knife, but totally totally worth the ridiculous effort. You may prefer to get lamb mince from the butcher. Most sensible people would! Scrag end isn’t the easiest cut of meat to use, so this was a decent option in many ways and I got 200g of meat from two pieces, testament to the excellent lamb my mum produces.

Welcome to malfouf. This recipe came out of a gorgeous cookbook called Palestine on a Plate, by the lovely Joudie Kalla:

Malfouf: rice and lamb mince wrapped in cabbage leaves

I used slightly smaller quantities than listed in the book.
You’ll need:

  • 1-2 hispi cabbages
  • 200g lamb mince
  • 300g white rice (pudding rice is listed in the book, but i used a mix of that and basmati)
  • 1 tbsp carraway seeds (I substituted fennel seeds)
  • 1-2 garlic bulbs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • 400ml water
  • a large frying pan
  • a large saucepan

1. Leave your cabbage whole, but just strip off a few outer leaves if they look a bit tough or manky.

2. Pop it into your saucepan, fill halfway with water, and bring to the boil.

3. Boil till you can smell cabbage. Drain. Let cool.

4. Mix uncooked rice, raw mince, salt, pepper and cinnamon. It doesn’t mix willingly, so use your fingers, a spoon, whatever does the job.

5. Get your frying pan out (no frying required).

6. Sprinkle 1 tblsp fennel/carraway seeds on the bottom.

7. Carefully peel away the first cabbage leaf without tearing it and lay it in the palm of your hand.

8. Get a large teaspoon of rice and mince mixture into the bottom of the cabbage leaf, and start to roll the base of the leaf over the mix.

9. Fold both sides of the leaf over the ends of the cigar shape you’re forming and roll the whole thing up tightly.

10. Pop it into the pan and carry on making cigars until you get to the heart of the cabbage.

11. Nestle the rolled cigars tightly together in the pan (see photo).

 Malfouf before cooking
Before cooking …

12. Half the garlic cloves should be left whole and still clothed in their skins. These ought to be placed in the frying pan on the fennel seeds, with the cabbage cigars laid on top, but i found that pushed them out of formation, so I squeezed them in between the rolls.

13. The other half of the garlic cloves should be stripped and smashed. I used a handy hammer, but this may have been overkill. I was hungry, wasting no time.

14. When the pan is full (if you need a second cabbage like I did, go ahead and boil it when you decide. You may not need it, depends how generous your rolls), top the rolls with the smashed garlic cloves.

15. Pour the water over the rolls. 400ml should cover them.

16. Pop an upside down plate on top of your rolls to keep the leaves pressed down, and put your pan lid on top. I needed to partly remove my lid at the end of cooking because the water failed to evaporate in 45 minutes.

17. Bring to the boil, cook for 10 mins, then turn the heat down and simmer for 45 minutes. When the water is gone, the rice and mince will be tender and the delicious smells will fill your kitchen. If the water doesn’t disappear, remove or partially remove the pan lid.

18. Squirt with lemon juice (I forgot this bit).

After cooking … plenty of steam

Joudie states that she freezes the left overs so that she can eat them whenever she feels like it, so that’s what I’m going to do with mine!

I ate mine with a roasted cauliflower salad and a tahini, yoghurt, and lemon dip/dressing.

Veggie version:
I live with a veggie and he was sorry not to be able to eat this mildly spiced, comforting food. Next time, I will use a can of green or beluga lentils in place of meat and make him some too. This may not work and won’t have the comforting smell of lamb, but with a bit more cinnamon, a bit more salt, carraway/fennel in the actual mix, and all that garlic, it should be satisfying and tasty.