Friday, February 22, 2013

Middle Eastern Lentil-Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

I wish I had a lovely story to tell you of how the recipe for these stuffed cabbage leaves came to me. A story of a grandmother who lovingly cooked this same dish for me whenever I went to visit her, or of a recipe written down on a napkin on holidays, then tucked into my wallet and carried home to recreate the memories of that trip. Or of how I discover my (imaginary) exotic roots and try to become acquainted with the life of my long lost ancestors.

But no, it came to me via the Vegetarian Times, the only food magazine I currently read and find in my mail box. Before Deb's post, and the magazine in my mailbox, I never really had stuffed cabbage leaves in a tomato sauce. Only once, shortly after Michael became a vegetarian and I searched non-pasta recipes to make, did I stuff cabbage leaves, back then with goat's cheese and honey. This was never quite forgotten, but somehow I never did get around to making it again. These stuffed cabbage leaves are a completely different thing. When the goat's cheese stuffed leaves were creamy and smooth and rather subtle, these are a little spicy and pungent. In fact, I might have over seasoned them a little, overcompensating for the somewhat under seasoned looking recipe. It did work out nicely with the plain rice I served them with, but if you are rather sensitive to spices you might want to use less of the cumin.

Middle Easter Lentil-Stuffed Cabbage Leaves
Adapted from the Vegetarian Times, March 2013

3/4 cup French green lentils
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
optional: the green part of one small leek (I had some left-over, but I wouldn't go out and buy leek just for this recipe)
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp za'atar
2 tsp salt, divided
9 large savoy cabbage leaves
1 small handful dried currants, chopped
1 small handful Kalamata olives, pitted, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp lemons preserved in salt, divided (or 2 tbsp lemon juice + 1 tsp lemon zest, divided)
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes (I buy passata, plain pureed tomatoes, but no the concentrated tomato puree)
2 tsp cumin (I'd might use a little less the next time)
1 tsp marjoram
cayenne pepper and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C.
In a saucepan, cook the lentils with 4 cups water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain.
In the same saucepan, bring a few inches of water to a boil, add the cabbage leaves and cook for a minute or two. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.
In the same saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion (and optional leek), and sauté for 3 minutes or until translucent and fragrant. Turn the heat down and add the garlic. Sauté for another minute or so, then turn the heat off and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, lightly mash the lentils using your fingers (if you use a blender/food processor, only mash half of the lentils and add them back to the bowl with the rest of the lentils). Add in the sauteed garlic and onion, the currants and olives, flour, za'atar, 1 tsp of the salt and half of the preserved lemon, or 1 tbsp lemon juice. 
In another mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, cumin, marjoram, the rest of the salt, the rest of the preserved lemons (or 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp lemon zest), and cayenne pepper to taste.
Coat the bottom of a 8-inch baking dish with a little tomato sauce. Set next to your work surface.
Lay one cabbage leave flat on your work surface. Place two tablespoons of the lentil filling on the leave. Fold the sides of the leave to the center, and roll the leaves up beginning on the rib end. Place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the other leaves. Cover with the rest of the tomato sauce.
Bake for 45 minutes. (I might try to cook them on the stove top the next time I make them. I see little advantage in making them in the oven.)
Serves 3-4.


  1. These sound like such a great vegetarian dinner. Now I'm wishing that the little cabbage I bought this week was about twice as big, for rolling purposes!

    1. You kind of have to buy the biggest cabbage you can find for these, and be prepared to eat more of it later in the week. But they really made a great vegetarian dinner.

  2. Ah I loved Deb's post on stuffed cabbage (and rachel eats' too). I've been wanting to make stuffed cabbage for awhile-- and especially that of a middle eastern version. I've tried some that had a spice blend of cumin, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon, among other things, and it was fantastic. Yours look great, and I like how you used lentils in them. Over rice, that sounds like a perfect dinner.

    1. I knew I could have added something else, a little cinnamon would be perfect in these!