Lebanese Cabbage Rolls (Meat-Free)

Lebanese cabbage rolls are a fresh take on vegan stuffed cabbage. Filled with a lightly spiced lentil and rice mixture, the rolls are cooked with mint, lemon, and loads of garlic for a healthy, gluten free meal. These are super delicious, and definitely worth the wait. This makes a big batch- the perfect freezer filler!

Close up shot of plate of lebanese cabbage rolls

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What are Lebanese cabbage rolls?

Let’s talk about vegan cabbage rolls! There are so many types of cabbage rolls from all around the world, many of these coming from Slavic countries- including my favourite Polish ‘golabki’. But Polish cabbage rolls now have a serious contender!

This Lebanese stuffed cabbage is different to any other stuffed cabbage I’ve made. Called ‘malfouf’ in Arabic, Lebanese cabbage rolls are a traditional Middle Eastern recipe, in which lightly spiced rice and meat are rolled tightly inside cabbage leaves, and cooked in a sauce of lemon, mint, and garlic. 

…And I mean a lot of garlic, this recipe contains around 1.5 heads of garlic. Trust me, the flavour is awesome!

Pan filled with lebanese cabbage rolls

Vegan cabbage roll filling

What makes these different to traditional stuffed cabbage rolls is that they are completely vegan! Whilst Lebanese cabbage rolls typically use ground beef or lamb, I’ve used lentils and mushrooms in this recipe, which give that ground meat texture. 

Normally, the ground meat and rice would be mixed together and go into the leaves completely raw. The meat would give the filling the structure to hold together.

As we’re not using meat here, we need to part-cook the lentils and rice, so that they are a little stickier and easier to roll up inside the cabbage leaf. Along with the rice, lentils and mushrooms, the filling contains:

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Tomato paste
  • Spices- ground cumin, coriander, allspice and cinnamon
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
Ingredients for Lebanese cabbage rolls

How long does it take to make Lebanese cabbage rolls?

I’m not going to lie to you, making cabbage rolls is time consuming. All in, this recipe takes around 2.5-3 hours from start to finish.

I was speaking on the phone with my Mum when I was last making these, and her words of wisdom were “life is too short to stuff a cabbage!”. If you’re like my Mum, I’d get someone else to do the rolling part for you!

These vegan cabbage rolls are the perfect recipe for a slow Sunday afternoon. Whilst I’m big on meal prep and quick weeknight dinners, I’m a foodie at heart, and love putting time into a meal when I can. 

If you’re like me, knowing that there’s something super delicious at the other end makes it worth the wait! An extra pair of hands doesn’t go amiss when making these though, so I’ll often rope Remi into the process too. 

How to make Lebanese cabbage rolls

There are a few steps to making these vegan cabbage rolls- preparing the cabbage, making the stuffing, rolling, and cooking.  

Prepare the cabbage

Turn your cabbage upside down and use a long sharp knife to cut around the core, going as deep as you can. 

Place the cabbage upside down in a large pot, and fill it up with boiling water so that the cabbage is covered. Bring the water to a steady low simmer. 

After around 3-4 minutes of simmering, the outer leaves should start to soften and fall away from the cabbage. Pull the leaves off, one by one, leaving a little time between each layer to allow the leaves to soften.

It’s important that you don’t over boil the cabbage, as it will be cooked again later. Likewise don’t try to pull the cabbage leaves off if they aren’t softened, as they’ll break.

Make the stuffing

To make the stuffing, heat a little oil in the bottom of a wide pan. Fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook until they start to release water, around 3 minutes.

Add the tomato puree and spices, mix well, then add the lentils, rice and vegetable stock. Stir and then cover the pan, and simmer for around 15 minutes until all of the water is absorbed.

The lentils should be mostly cooked and the rice should still have a bite to it.

Stir through the lemon juice and olive oil, and season well with salt and pepper.

How to roll Lebanese cabbage rolls

A big difference I noticed between Slavic cabbage rolls and Lebanese cabbage rolls is the size- Lebanese cabbage rolls are much smaller. They are similar in size to stuffed grape leaves, but even longer and thinner.

Whilst Slavic cabbage rolls tend to use the entire leaf, for these we need to cut each leaf into two or three pieces, making sure to cut around the stem. If you have very small cabbage leaves, you can leave them whole, but make sure to thin-out any chunky stems.

On each piece of cabbage leaf, add a couple of small spoonfuls of filling. Form it into a line, leaving a little bit of space at either end. Be careful not to over-stuff, as it will make it difficult to roll.

Fold the ends over the filling, then roll the rest of the leaf up tightly. Give the cabbage roll a little squeeze to secure it.

How to cook Lebanese stuffed cabbage rolls

You need a good, large, lidded pot to cook malfouf. I find that a dutch oven works great for this recipe, as it creates a really good even heat for cooking.

Add a layer of the leftover bits of cabbage leaves to the bottom of your pot to line it. One by one, add the cabbage leaves in tightly. If there are any spaces between rolls, add in the wedges of tomato.

Create as many layers of Lebanese stuffed cabbage as needed, alternating the direction with each layer. Sprinkle the slices of garlic between each layer.

When the rolls are layered up, add any remaining slices of garlic and tomato. Mix together the water, salt, lemon juice and dried mint, and pour it over the rolls. Top up with enough water to nearly cover the rolls.

It’s important to add a heavy plate or bowl on top of the malfouf before cooking. This is to stop them from moving around so that they hold together.

Bring the water to a simmer, then cook, covered, for 45 minutes.

Once they’ve finished cooking, serve straight away, or leave them to rest for half an hour before serving. I find this lets the flavours develop and helps the cabbage leaves to stay in shape. 

Which type of cabbage should I use?

Green or white cabbage is the best cabbage for Lebanese cabbage rolls, but you could use chinese or sweetheart if you’re in a pinch. The main priority is making sure that it’s big, as this will put you in a better place when rolling them up

What side dish goes with vegan cabbage rolls?

The great thing about cabbage rolls is that they’re an all-in-one meal, with vegetables, grain and protein included. If you feel like you want to serve them with something, a light and fresh salad, such as fattoush, would go well. 

You can also try toasting some pitta breads and stuffing these cabbage rolls inside them- unconventional but tasty!

Asides from that, serve with a big dollop of dairy-free yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon.

Overhead photo of Lebanese cabbage rolls on plate

Lebanese cabbage rolls FAQ’s

Can I prepare cabbage rolls in advance?

The flavour of these cabbage rolls only gets better with time, so they’re perfect for preparing in advance. Cook the malfouf as instructed and keep them in the pot they were cooked in, stored in a cool place.
If you’re preparing them more than a few hours in advance and don’t have room in your fridge for the pot, transfer them to an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days.

How do I reheat cabbage rolls?

When you’re ready to eat, place them in their pot on the stove over a medium heat (add a splash of water if there is no liquid left). They should take around 15 minutes to heat through.
You can also warm them in the microwave for 2-3 minutes per portion.

Can I freeze vegan cabbage rolls?

As this recipe makes a large amount of cabbage rolls, it’s perfect for preparing for the freezer for quick dinners. I like to portion them up in airtight containers, so I can pull them out one portion at a time. You can keep them in the freezer like this for up to 3 months.
I would suggest defrosting them in the fridge overnight, then reheating as above. If you want to cook them from frozen, double this reheating time, making sure that the filling is piping hot through before serving.

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Lebanese cabbage rolls pin image

Lebanese Cabbage Rolls (Meat Free)

Chloe from Forkful of Plants
Prep Time 1 hr 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 15 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Middle Eastern
Servings 8
Lebanese cabbage rolls are a fresh take on vegan stuffed cabbage. Filled with a lightly spiced lentil and rice mixture, the rolls are cooked with mint, lemon, and loads of garlic for a healthy, gluten free meal. These are super delicious, and definitely worth the wait! This makes a big batch- the perfect freezer filler!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 large green cabbage or 2 medium

For the filling

  • 1 large brown onion finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic chopped
  • 250 g mushrooms finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 200 g brown, green, or puy lentils (1 cup)
  • 200 g brown rice (1 cup)
  • 250 ml vegetable stock (1 cup)
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

For the pot

  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 1 bulb garlic peeled and sliced
  • 1 litre boiling water (4 cups)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ lemon juiced
  • 1 tbsp dried mint

Instructions
 

For the cabbage leaves

  • Place the cabbage upside down in a large pot. Use a long, sharp knife to cut around the core, going as deep as you can. Fill the pot up with boiling water so that the cabbage is covered, and bring to a low steady simmer.
  • After around 3-4 minutes of simmering, start pulling the leaves off one by one, leaving a little time between each layer to allow the leaves to soften.*

To make the stuffing

  • Heat a little oil in the bottom of a wide pan. Fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook until they start to release water, around 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomato puree and spices, mix well, then add the lentils, rice and vegetable stock. Stir and cover the pan, then simmer for around 15 minutes until all of the water is absorbed.
  • Stir through the lemon juice and olive oil, and season well with salt and pepper.

How to roll Lebanese cabbage rolls**

  • Cut each leaf into two or three pieces, making sure to cut around the stem. If you have very small cabbage leaves, you can leave them whole, but make sure to thin-out any chunky stems.
  • On each piece of cabbage leaf, add a couple of small spoonfuls of filling. Form it into a line, leaving a little bit of space at either end. Be careful not to over-stuff, as this will make it difficult to roll.
  • Fold the ends over the filling, then roll the rest of the leaf up tightly. Give the cabbage roll a little squeeze to secure it.

To cook

  • Add a layer of the leftover bits of cabbage leaves to the bottom of a heavy pot to line it. One by one, line the cabbage leaves up tightly. If there are any spaces between rolls, add in wedges of tomato.
  • Keep layering up the cabbage rolls, alternating the direction with each layer. Sprinkle the slices of garlic between each layer. When you have no rolls left, add any remaining slices of garlic and tomato.
  • Mix together the water, salt, lemon juice and dried mint, and pour it over the rolls. Top up with enough water to nearly cover the rolls.
  • Place a heavy plate or bowl on top of the cabbage rolls, then cover. Bring the water to a simmer, then cook for 45 minutes.
  • Serve with fresh lemon slices and dairy-free yoghurt.

Notes

*It’s important that you don’t over boil the cabbage, as it will be cooked again later. Likewise don’t try to pull the cabbage leaves off if they aren’t softened, as they’ll break.
 
**See post content above for visual step-by-steps for rolling the cabbage rolls.

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