‘What are we having for dinner my love?’ said my father as he came home. ‘What is left of the malfouf I made’ replied my mother. At which point I, age 4, run into the room and declare ‘I have already eaten 30, baba’. Or so the story my mother has been telling everyone my whole life goes. Anyone who knows what malfouf is will find this hard to believe, and so did I until I had my son. Otis loves malfouf and can eat seven or ten in just one sitting. He is just a year old.
For those new to malfouf, it is large cabbage leaves stuffed with spiced rice and meat and then cooked for an hour or so with garlic then served with yoghurt and lemon. It is delicious. It is also an absolute labour of love, it takes hours to strip the leaves, cut the spine out, blanche them, prepare the stuffing and roll it all up and cook it. Correctly tessellating all the rolled up malfoufs into a pan is a job in itself and one my mother takes very seriously, and we often have a minor tussle as she isn’t happy with my relaxed attitude towards the whole thing.
For me, this dish is old Palestine. It’s the days before women went out to work, before they had TV and phones to occupy ourselves with. Its women sitting around chatting, laughing, and making a day of cooking delicious food. I sit and make this with my mother (but she does nearly all the work) and it is such a special time.
2 white cabbages (as large as you can find)
2 cups basmati rice
800-1000g ground beef
1 table spoon mixed spice
1 table spoon allspice
1 tea spoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 bulbs garlic
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Papper
To serve: Fresh lemon wedges and greek yoghurt
prepare the cabbage:
- remove each cabbage leaf from the head
- cut the tough and thick spine from the leaf
- put leaves into a large pan of boiling water and blanche until they become slightly translucent and lose that raw waxy quality
- remove from the water and let cool down before rolling
Prepare the stuffing:
- Mix together the ground beef, raw rice and all the spices, salt and pepper in a large bowl/ tray
- Lay the cabbage leaf out on a cutting board and put a table spoon of the mixture in the middle avoiding going right to the edge and simply roll up.
Assembling the pan:
- Put any unusable leaves ay the bottom of the pan
- Put a layer of malfoufs all going in one direction and then add about 5 garlic cloves (still in their skins) and then lay another layer going in the opposite direction and put down another 5 garlic cloves.
- Repeat this process until all the malfoufs are in the pan
- Put a good slug of olive oil over them and add salt
- Put a small pan lid or heat-resistant plate on top of the malfoufs to weight them down then add water until all the malfours are just about covered. Put the pan lid on.
- Put on a high heat on the hob until it starts to boil then reduce heat to a gentle simmer for about an hour – keep checking the water is still there. If the water burns off within 1 hr 15 mins add a bit more. If there is still a lot of water by 1 hr then turn the heat up. You want there to be no water and expect a cocking time of about 1 hr 15 mins.
Serve with fresh lemon and yoghurt. The great things about this dish it that it will stay warm with the lid on for over an hour so you can cook it ahead.