Mahshi Cromb / Cabbage Dolmas – the easy way
Some time ago, when my son visited Kuwait, my wife pressed him into service stuffing vine leaves. Actually, she could not have had a better stuffer and folder of vine leaves as his origami skills were of a high order and his were of an almost machine-like precision. Not all of us are quite so talented and cabbage leaves, even when blanched in boiling water are less flexible. Last weekend my wife got all excited about a new technique she had heard about and it certainly is the easy option to get quite tidy and regular dolmas.
Stuffed leaves are nothing new of course. The ancient Greeks stuffed vine leaves with sweetened cheese (thrion), so the technique was clearly widespread in classical times.
Dolmas, particularly stuffed cabbage leaves are ubiquitous throughout Central Asia and the habit spread to Iran, the Caucasus, present-day Turkey and the Balkans. The dish was eaten at the Ottoman court, where according to the Oxford Companion to Food, the habit spread to Sweden as a result of Charles XII’s unplanned stay in Turkey after his defeat by the Russians at the battle of Poltava. Whatever the repercussions of the Great Northern War, Charles XII returned to Sweden in 1715 with his Turkish cooks, his creditors and a new dish for Sweden, Kaldolmar.
Cabbage – (you want decent sized leaves)
4-500g Minced beef - or lamb (75% lean)
Freshly chopped parsley
Freshly chopped dill
*Note, the above list is what was in the dolmas pictured, but could easily have the addition of raisins and/or parboiled rice. A lot depends on the flavour profile you are seeking on the day and the quantity needed to be made.
Assemble all the stuffing ingredients in a bowl (fig. 1), mix thoroughly and set aside. Cut a large cabbage leaf off the cabbage and cut a ‘V’ to remove the stiffest piece of stem (do not throw away, the ‘discarded’ stems can be used for stock at a later time).
Plunge the leaf in boiling water and leave for a short time – just we want the leaves a little limp, not cooked!
Place (fig. 2) the slightly limp leaf in a cup, then place the stuffing inside the cup and wrap into a roughly shaped ball. Just in case the shape does not quite work a bit of patchwork with another piece of leaf will cover any potential leakage of the contents. The aim is to make a parcel.
Then (fig. 3) place the ‘parcels’ in a pan, packed reasonably tightly, i.e. neither like sardines, nor too loose so the leaves unwrap during cooking.
Dissolve some tomato purée (Cirio tomato paste from Lulu is good) in water sufficient to barley cover the dolmas. If a quantity is being made, the dolmas may be layered and pasata (Mutti from Saveco and Casa Rinaldi from Sultan) can be used as the cooking medium. Boil for 20 minutes at medium heat, then (fig. 4) plate up and serve.
Of course, for a vegan option, rice or other grains of choice, mushrooms etc. may be substituted and for a vegetarian option, feta or other white cheeses are also an option.