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Malfouf (Cabbage Rolls)


A meatless take on the traditional Arabic cabbage rolls, known as Malfouf. These tangy tender cabbage rolls are from my family’s recipe, with a plant-based spin. Each cabbage leaf is filled with a meat and rice mixture, combined with a few spices, and cooked in a garlicky lemon broth. This Palestinian vegan version of the Arabic cabbage rolls is a sure crowd-pleaser!

Plate of Malfouf (Arabic Cabbage Rolls)

Malfouf is one of those recipes that feels so close to the heart for many Arabs. Especially those living abroad, far from home. Which is why making these cabbage rolls is a big deal for me. From preparing & blanching the leaves, to stuffing and rolling each leaf, and standing impatiently by the pot enjoying the garlic aroma as they cook. It’s a nostalgic food for me – process & taste.

Coming home to the smell of Malfouf meant it was gonna be a good day. While they are a family-favourite, I don’t think we’ve had them enough (and believe me, we had them a lot…). It takes some work to get a big batch of these cabbage rolls on the table, and very little time to devour them all. So whenever they were made, there would always be a much bigger batch. Let me tell you, they rarely made it to leftovers!

They’re that addictive…
I can never stop myself from grabbing one after the other. And I don’t think you’ll be able to either!


About The Recipe

  • Vegan | Meatless
  • Juicy & tender
  • Garlicky aromatic flavours
  • Great for party food
A platter of vegan Malfouf (Arabic Cabbage Rolls). With potato & tomato slices, and lemon wedges.
Platter of Malfouf (Arabic Cabbage Rolls)

What Is Malfouf?

The Arabic word Malfouf has two meanings. The first being the name of the vegetable: Cabbage. The other means rolled. Which makes it the ideal name for this Arabic dish (translating to: Cabbage Rolls).

With many variations across the Arab cuisine, Malfouf is a popular Arabic dish that’s enjoyed all around the Middle East – and beyond. Each region has its own way of making cabbage rolls, which include a variety of different flavours. From the famous garlicky lemon Malfouf (like this Palestinian version), to the ones cooked in a hearty tomato broth (part of the dolma collection from the Kurdish & Iraqi cuisines).

A platter of Arabic Cabbage Rolls (Malfouf). Bitten into - showing the rice and meat filling. With potato & tomato slices, and lemon wedges.
Vegan Malfouf (Arabic Cabbage Rolls)

Ingredients

For this vegan Malfouf recipe, you’ll only need 8 ingredients (plus 3 more for the pot/to garnish):

Malfouf Filling Ingredients

  1. White cabbage – Best to use soft white cabbage for ease of rolling.

  2. Short grain rice – Works best for stuffing vegetables, and rolling cabbage & grape leaves.

  3. Vegan ground meat – Usually used raw in the filling & cooked when rolled in cabbage.

  4. Garlic – Essential for Arabic cabbage rolls, with tons of garlic to bring out the flavour.

  5. Cumin – Adds cozy flavours to Malfouf.

  6. Salt – Adjust to taste

  7. Black pepper

  8. Neutral oil
The ingredients for the Malfouf Filling. Cabbage, rice, vegan meat, garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, and oil.
Malfouf Filling Ingredients

Vegan Meat Options

I used precooked vegan meat (Yves Veggie Cuisine), for ease of cooking. It’s packed with smokey flavours, which replaces the flavours found in ground meat when cooked with spices.

You can use raw vegan meat instead – like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, or LightlLife. Use the same amount as mentioned in this recipe, along with 2 tsp of cumin, 2 tsp of seven spice, 1 tsp of salt and pepper (each). Feel free to toss in a skillet to lightly brown and bring out the flavours. Don’t over-cook, as it will continue cooking in the pot.

Vegan Meat and Rice filling in a bowl. Combined with garlic and spices.
Vegan Meat & Rice Filling

Step-by-Step

While it’s a fairly straight-forward recipe, it is a bit of a process to make these cabbage rolls. But it’s a fun and easy one!

Gather some friends, neighbours, or family, and enjoy a hang out of rolling dozens & dozens of Malfouf. Here’s how to make them:

  1. Soak the rice in cold water. Rinse until it runs clear.

  2. Cut around the stem of the cabbage head. Drop it into boiling water to soften.

  3. Pull apart the leaves using a tong. Blanch then remove and set aside to cool down.

  4. Mix the filling ingredients in a large bowl to combine.

  5. Cut out the stems of the leaves. Split the larger ones in half.

  6. Add the filling to each cabbage leaf to roll. Fold the bottom, tuck in the sides, and continue rolling.

  7. Start layering: Stems, Potatoes, Tomatoes, then Malfouf – pack them tightly with garlic in between.

  8. Add the water. Bring to boil. Place plate on top. Push down to hold in place. Lower heat & cover the lid. 

  9. Carefully remove plate after 30 minutes. Continue cooking for 1 to 1.5 hours – until liquid is absorbed.

  10. Add the lemon juice and let it sit to soak it up. Place a serving plate on top of the pot and flip it over.
A large plate of Malfouf (Arabic Cabbage Rolls). Layered with potato & tomato slices, and lemon wedges.
Vegan Arabic Cabbage Rolls (Malfouf)

How-To Video

Watch this video to see how we make our vegan Malfouf recipe. Slide through the clips to watch each step.


Serving Suggestions

Malfouf makes a great meal on its own. I personally enjoy them hot (with extra lemon juice), or cold – sometimes with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. But these cabbage rolls also pair well with:

  1. Raw cabbage salad – Chopped cabbage using the unrolled small leaves. Tossed with tomatoes, green onions, parsley, and mint. With a simple lemon, vinegar, and pomegranate molasses dressing.

  2. Warm pita bread – Heat it up on a gas stove-top (if available), or bake for a couple of minutes at medium-low temperature (around 300F). You can even air-fry at the same temperature too.

    Place a cabbage roll in a small piece of pita. Add a slice of potato, tomato, and a scoop of cabbage salad. Then roll it up into a mini sandwich.

Pro Tips

If it’s your first time stuffing or rolling vegetables, check out our pro tips to help you in the kitchen:

  1. Prepare the filling in advance. Soak and rinse the rice ahead of time. Mix it in with the remaining ingredients. Set aside in the fridge to use later when rolling or stuffing vegetables.

  2. Do not over-stuff the cabbage leaves or pack them too tightly. The rice will expand when cooked – so you don’t want it to pop and break the rolls.

  3. Make sure to pack the cabbage rolls tightly in the pot to hold in place.

  4. Use the filling for various vegetables: cabbage leaves, grape leaves, zucchinis, eggplants, bell peppers, and anything in between.
A plate of Arabic Cabbage Rolls (Malfouf). Bitten into - showing rice and meat mixture. With potato & tomato slices, and lemon wedges.
Vegan Arabic cabbage rolls (Malfouf)

FAQs

What are cabbage rolls made of?
There are many different variations to making Malfouf. The filling typically consists of ground meat, rice, garlic, and spices. This vegan take on the Arabic Cabbage Rolls is made with a few ingredients that bring out a fusion of flavours.

What is the best type of cabbage to use for cabbage rolls?
While you can simply use any type of cabbage to roll, white cabbage fits best for this recipe. Since it’s not as leafy, they contain subtle sweet flavours rather than bitter.

What is the best way to soften cabbage for cabbage rolls?
Core out the stem (cut it out), and place the entire cabbage head in a pot of boiling water. Move it around for a few minutes to soften the leaves. Pull them apart one at a time using a tong. Blanch for a minute or two.

Which rice should I use for cabbage rolls?
Short grain rice works best for stuffing vegetables, as well as rolling cabbage and grape leaves.

How long does it take to cook cabbage rolls?
Depending on individual oven settings, it can take anywhere from one to two hours, cooking over medium-low heat.

How to store cabbage rolls (Malfouf)?
Store any leftover cabbage rolls in air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Or place in a freezer-bags (after cooling down completely) to freeze for up to 3 months.

How do you reheat cabbage rolls (Malfouf)?
You can reheat leftover refrigerated cabbage rolls in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes (per serving). If reheating from frozen: thaw completely, then reheat over stovetop in a pot over low heat; or microwave for a couple of minutes – until hot inside.

Malfouf (Cabbage Rolls) layered on a wooden-tile platter with lemon wedges, potato & tomato slices.
A platter of Vegan Malfouf (Cabbage Rolls)

Related Recipes

Here are a few more vegan Arabic recipes that you might like. Try our Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves (called Yalanji), or these savoury chick’n sumac onion rolls (known as Musakhan).


Malfouf Recipe

Hope you give this vegan recipe a try. I’m sure you’ll love it! If you do, I’d love to hear about your experience. Leave me a comment below, and rate the recipe with ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. This will help us sustain demeals.

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Vegan Malfouf (Arabic Cabbage Rolls)

Recipe by Waseem HijaziCourse: DinnerCuisine: Arab, Middle EasternDifficulty: Intermediate
Servings

50

rolls
Prep time

1

hour 
Cooking time

2

hours 
Total time

3

hours 

A meatless take on the traditional Arabic cabbage rolls, known as Malfouf. These tangy tender cabbage rolls are from my family’s recipe, with a plant-based spin. Each cabbage leaf is filled with a meat and rice mixture, combined with a few spices, and cooked in a garlicky lemon broth. This Palestinian vegan version of the Arabic cabbage rolls is a sure crowd-pleaser!

Ingredients

  • For The Filling
  • 2 cup short grain rice, soaked & rinsed

  • 1/2 kg precooked vegan ground meat – See Notes (1)

  • 1 head garlic, minced/paste-like

  • 2 tbsp cumin

  • 2 tsp salt

  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

  • 2 tsp neutral oil

  • The Rest
  • 1 small cabbage

  • 4 to 6 small potatoes, 1/4 inch slices

  • 3 to 4 tomatoes, 1/4 inch slices

  • 1/2 head garlic, whole cloves

  • 1 lemon, squeezed at the end

  • Water for the pot

Directions

  • Soak the rice in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes. Rinse until it runs clear.
  • Prepare the cabbage. Cut around the stem at the end to remove it. Drop the cabbage head into a pot of boiling water over medium heat. Move it around for a few minutes to soften and separate the leaves. Pull them apart one at a time using a tong. Blanch for a minute or two. They should be somewhat firm, yet soft enough to roll. Remove from the pot and set aside to cool down completely. Place the leaves facing soft-side down, for ease of rolling later.
  • Prepare the filling. Add the ingredients to a large bowl. Mix to combine. 
  • Once the leaves are cool enough to work with, cut out the stems at the end of each. Save them to add to the bottom of the pot later. 
  • Split the larger leaves in half. Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling to the centre of each cabbage leaf. Gently push it back to the end and roll it carefully. Fold over the bottom, tuck in the sides, and continue rolling. Make sure not to pack it too tightly (the rice will expand while cooking).
  • Prepare the pot for layering. Begin with the cabbage stems from before, along with potato and tomato slices. Followed by the cabbage rolls, tightly packed in the pot to stay in place. Add the garlic cloves in between layers for extra flavour. Continue layering until finished.
  • Add in the water to cover the edge of the cabbage rolls. Bring it to a boil. Place a heavy plate on top and push down. 
  • Cover with the lid and turn the heat down to medium-low. Carefully remove the plate after 30 minutes. Cover again and continue cooking until the water is evaporated – an additional 1 to 1.5 hours. 
  • Remove the lid and add the lemon juice. Let it sit for a few minutes to soak it up. 
  • Place the serving board on top of the pot and carefully flip it over. Serve it immediately with pita bread, a salad, or by itself. 

Recipe Video

Notes

  • (1) Vegan meat options – I used precooked vegan meat (Yves Veggie Cuisine) for ease of cooking.

    You can use raw vegan meat (like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Lightlife, etc.) with spices instead. Use the same amount as mentioned in this recipe, along with 2 tsp of cumin, 2 tsp of seven spice, 1 tsp of salt and pepper (each).
  • (2) Storing leftovers – Place the leftover cabbage rolls in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Or in freezer-bags (after cooling down completely) to freeze for up to 3 months.

    Thaw and reheat over stovetop in a pot, or microwave for a couple of minutes – until insides are hot.
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