I am sure that those who have an affinity for Greek cuisine already know what ‘dolmades’ are. In spring and summer, it’s often fresh or pickled vineleaves that are used to make these delicious little rolls, stuffed with rice and mixed herbs. In autumn and winter times, however, lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες), or stuffed cabbage rolls, are more commonly prepared. These little rolls of cabbage are stuffed with a tasty mixture of rice, minced meat (usually beef) and mixed herbs and are often topped with a eggy lemon-flavored sauce (avgolemono). They are the perfect comfort winter dish and are also often seen at the dinner table around Christmas as a side dish.
To make lahanodolmades, you have to carefully remove leaves from a large cabbage by boiling the whole thing and carefully peeling off the outer leaves, after which you individually wrap little scoops of filling into the softened leaves until you’ve got enough to fill a large pot. You’ll then cook the little rolls for about an hour after which you’ll pour over and egg, lemon and cooking liquid emulsion (the avgolemono sauce), which then again needs some time to thicken and set slightly. Sounds like a lot of work? It is!
While I would make the little individual lahanodolmades for a special occasion, on regular days I prefer this ‘lahanodolmades for lazy people’ recipe, which uses the same ingredients you’d use for the traditional rolls, but instead of making individual rolls, you make ONE BIG ROLL. I guess it’s more like a stuffed cabbage pie of some sort, which can be cut into slices and served with a scoop of avgolemono over the top. It’s really the perfect dish for people like me that crave comforting dishes like lahanodolmades, but have no patience to make them.
Note about the sauce: Usually avgolemono sauce will finish cooking in the hot pan with the cabbage rolls (or youvarlakia, or soup, or whichever dish you are serving it with), but because my dish here involves one big pie that fills most of the pan, the sauce will have to be fully cooked and thickened before serving it over the pie. To fix the problem of ending up with an undercooked or runny sauce, for this recipe you will be cooking it au bain marie over a small pot of lightly simmering water for a few minutes until it’s creamy and thick enough.
Note about the stuffing: I am using half beef and half lamb mince for my stuffing, but any type of mince can be used. Prefer a less fatty filling? Use all lean beef mince. Can’t find minced lamb? Use a bit of pork mince instead. Heck. I even think you could use minced chicken in this recipe if you have to, though it would be slightly unusual.
Lahanodolmades tis Tebelas / Λαχανοντολμάδες της Τεμπέλας (Greek Stuffed Cabbage Rolls for Lazy people / Cabbage Pie)
- 1 large head of cabbage, common or savoy
- 25g pine nuts
- 250g minced beef
- 250g minced lamb
- 150g short grain rice (such as Carolina or Arborio)
- 1 yellow onion, finely minced
- 30g Fresh dill (about 1/3 cup), finely chopped
- 30g Fresh parsley (about 1/3 cup), finely chopped
- 20g Fresh mint leaves (about 1/4 cup), finely chopped
- Pepper to taste
- 125ml extra-virgin olive oil
- For the avgolemono sauce:
- 1 cup (250ml) reserved cooking liquid from the cabbage pie, or hot water
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- Juice of 2 - 3 lemons (you’ll need about 100ml)
- Make stuffing: In a small skillet over high heat, toast the pinenuts until they start to brown slightly. Remove from heat and add to a bowl. Add minced meats, rice, minced onion and chopped herbs to the bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to let flavours combine.
- Fill a large enough pot to hold the whole cabbage with water and a generous pinch of salt and bring to a boil.
- Carefully cut the core out of the bottom of the cabbage to help with loosening the leaves, but try to keep the cabbage intact.
- When the water is boiling, add the whole cabbage and cover with a lid. Boil for 2 - 3 minutes until the outer leaves turn soft. Lift the cabbage out of the pot and remove softened outer leaves. When the leaves get harder to peel off, return cabbage to the pot to boil for another few minutes. Continue process until you’ve got about 18 - 20 large leaves (though, how many leaves you’ll need exactly depends on the size of the cabbage and oven dish, of course).
- Trim or cut out the thickest stem part from the cabbage leaves with a knife, leaving the leaf intact as much as possible (though it’s okay to cut large leaves in half totally).
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
- Grease a circular oven-proof dish, or high-rimmed skillet with some of the olive oil. Cover bottom and sides of the dish with a layer of cabbage leaves (see photo), making sure to have some leaves hanging slightly over the edge. Place an extra double layer of (pieces of) leaves on top of the bottom layer.
- Spoon on half of the stuffing mixture then cover with a single layer of cabbage. Place other half of stuffing on top, and cover with the final cabbage leaves, folding the overhanging side-leaves over the top. Tuck in the leaves as tightly as possible without breaking them, then place an upside down heatproof plate on top to keep everything down. It’s not necessary for the plate to reach the most outer edges of your dish, it merely functions as a weight.
- Pour over the remaining olive oil and about 500ml of water, or as much as needed to reach the edge of the plate, then cover dish/pot with a lid, or piece of aluminum foil.
- Place in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes up to an hour. Check from time to time to make sure the juice hasn’t completely evaporated. If necessary add a little more water during cooking.
- When the stuffed cabbage is cooked, carefully drain all of the juice in a bowl, you will need about a cup (250ml) of it to make the avgolemono sauce. If you don’t have enough juice, use what you have with some extra boiled water mixed in to make 250ml.
- Leave the cabbage pie in the pan or pot to rest for 5 – 10 minutes
- In a bowl, beat the eggs with the lemon juice until slightly foamy.
- Very carefully add a few drops of the warm cooking liquid from the cabbage pie whilst beating continuously until all (or most) of the 250ml of liquid is incorporated. The sauce should turn lighter in color and start to thicken slightly.
- To thicken the sauce even more and make it have a creamy consistency, place the bowl over a small pan with lightly simmering water and stir until the sauce thickens and becomes creamy. Be careful not to overcook and scramble the eggs. When sauce has thickened, remove from heat.
- Place a large plate (large enough to hold the complete pie) over your pan and quickly flip over the pan and plate to turn out the pie. Watch out: it’s heavy and juicy.
- Cut slices out of the ‘pie’ and spoon over the sauce on each serving.