The how, the why and the joys of creating this most satisfying family soul food, updated with more photos and instructions on how to prepare the cabbage.
1-2 heads of green cabbage
- 1-2 pounds of lean ground beef
- 1/3-2/3 cup rice
- 1-2 tablespoons dried basil
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 1-2 tablespoons dried minced onion, or grated fresh yelllow or red onion
- 2-3 cans tomato sauce
Begin by preparing the cabbage. Set out a colander on a large plate next to the stove. Fill a large stock pot half way with water and bring to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, cut out the core(s) of the cabbage(s) as shown above.
Drop the cabbage in o the boiling water. Adjust the heat to keep the water simmering.
The first outer leaves will fall away easily. Pluck ten out of the water with tongs and place them in the colander to drain.
As you remove leaves, some may begin to cling to the core. You can prevent some of this by enlarging the center of the core you have removed with the knife before boiling, but there will always be some hangers on. Use a carving fork to pry them away.
Like so. As you do this, use the tongs in your other hand to manage the bobbing cabbage head. You can see above that eventually the inner core of the cabbage gets too small to separate the leaves. At this point, let it stay in the water for another few minutes to soften all the leaves left inside. Then pull it out and place it in the colander with all the separated parboiled leaves and allow these to cool as you prepare the filling.
Prepare the filling:
Mix the meat, salt, onion, basil, rice and up a few tablespoons of water thoroughly until all is amalgamated and a smooth mixture is obtained. The basic ratio is 1 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup uncooked rice, one tablespoon onion and 1 tablespoon basil per one pound meat. Adjust to your taste. I probably use more basil than that. I just keep tossing it in until I like the distribution and scent. The basil is key.
Make the rolls:
Place about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture at the end of a cabbage leaf. See how nicely it fits in to the natural curve of the leaf.
Begin rolling the leaf, tucking the sides as you go and rolling tightly.
As you approach the end, trim off the thickest part of the rib:
Finish rolling and place in bottom of pot that you have lined with leaves that are either too small or holey or otherwise unsuitable for rolling.
Continue rolling and stack in layers until all the filling is consumed. You should have plenty of leaves left to cover the rolls with extra leaves.
Place an inverted plate atop all.
This prevents the rolls from floating around and unrolling themselves as they cook.
Add tomato sauce and water, one can sauce and 1/2 cup water per pound of meat. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 2 hours.
Serve with rice or bulgur pilaf and either pida or wet lavash. What? You’ve never had wet lavash? Huh, well break it in to serving size pieces, run each piece under warm water thoroughly wetting both sides, shake as much of the water off as you can, stack the pieces on a plate, cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to soften 20 minutes. Now it’s like a tortilla, only better, way better, especially if you roll it with a little butter inside. Take care when removing that plate with tongs before serving the dolmas. We serve it right from the pot so as not to disturb the rolls, but you can remove to a casserole if you’re so inclined.