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Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat and Rice – Lahana Sarmasi

Stuffed cabbage leaves, lahana sarmasi, delicious with dollop of yoghurt aside

Stuffed cabbage leaves, lahana sarmasi, delicious with dollop of yoghurt aside

Stuffed cabbage leaves are popular in winter time at Turkish homes. This wonderful, healthy and comforting dish is one of my childhood favorites; always brings lots of pleasant memories. I remember us all sitting around the kitchen table preparing the cabbage leaves ready to be stuffed, eagerly waiting for them to be cooked. Once it is cooked, we children all used to camp around the pot, offering (and sometimes helping ourselves) to “quality check” if the stuffed leaves cooked well. We loved eating these treats dipping into plain yoghurt, happy days 🙂

I hope you have a go at making these fantastic dolmas; it is really not as hard as you would imagine and will certainly impress your guests. The sharpness of lemon brings extra zing and goes very well with cabbage.

Serves 4
Preparation time : 35 minutes Cooking time : 35-40 minutes

1 medium white cabbage – brings out about 25 leaves
250gr/9oz/generous 1 cup lean ground (minced) lamb or beef
115gr/4oz/1/2 cup long grain rice, rinsed and drained
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic (optional)
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
15ml/1tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (optional)
2 teaspoon dried mint
60ml/4 tablespoons olive oil
8fl oz/1 cup hot water
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and ground pepper to taste

1 small bowl of natural (plain) yoghurt
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Cut the cabbage in half vertically and cut out the hearts. Plunge into a pot of salted boiling water and cook for about 5-8 minutes. The leaves should be tender but not over cooked. Rinse under cold running water and carefully remove the outer leaves. Cut away the hard central vein, resulting in about 25 pieces of cabbage leaves, about the size of your hand.

For the filling; put the ground meat in a bowl and stir in the onions, parsley, dried mint, red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper and knead, until they all combined well. Add the rice and mix well with a spoon, taking care not to break the rice grains.

Take one of the cabbage leaves on a flat surface and spoon a walnut size of the filling at the base of each leaf. Fold the edges over the filling and roll up to form a chunky finger sized dolma. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.

Pour the remaining olive oil in a deep, wide pan. Arrange the dolmas in the pan seam side down and side by side. If you like, scatter the garlic cloves amongst the dolmas – once they are cooked the cloves will be moist and juicy, and will add a wonderful flavor. Mix the lemon juice, hot water and a pinch of salt, then pour over the dolmas. The liquid should come at least halfway up the top layer, so you may need to add extra liquid. Place a heavy plate over the leaves to stop them from unraveling, followed by a lid or foil.

Cook over low heat for about 35-40 minutes, until the dolmas are tender. Remove from the heat and let the dolmas rest for about 10 minutes. That will help the dolmas to come out without breaking and make the flavor even better.

Serve hot, with yoghurt by the side and lemon wedges to squeeze over.

Note: You can also use grapevine leaves for dolma, yaprak sarmasi with either using the vegetarian aromatic rice stuffing or meat and rice stuffing.

Afiyet Olsun,


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10 Responses to Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat and Rice – Lahana Sarmasi

  1. Anonymous June 20, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    I look forward to trying this recipe; thanks for sharing! My mother (of Croatian decent) often made stuffed cabbages, a staple in the homeland of her grandparents, and I loved them. However I have developed a love of savory Levantine cuisine and was searching for for a recipe that incorporated the two (the cabbage rolls I remember and the Middle Eastern/Turkish food I've come to love). Again, thanks for passing along this recipe!

  2. Ioana November 7, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    You just made me miss my mom more, she makes the best. I Romania we call them ‘sarmale’. You should try to make them with cabbage matured in brine and eat them with polenta and sour cream or greek yogurt, they are simply fantastic. I think Ottoman Empire brought those fantastic recipes to the Eastern Europe. Thanks for posting this recipe, I’ll give it a try. Love your food.

    • Ozlem Warren November 7, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

      Merhaba dear Ioana, many thanks for your kind note; I think the food we make has such strong attachments to our memories with loved ones; I dearly miss my mum too and making this kind of food is a special bond between us. I look forward to trying your version, splendid idea – many thanks for your kind words, glad your enjoy the recipes here : )

  3. Kishinev October 22, 2016 at 6:18 am #

    I tried this recipe. Its pretty good . My grandmother who was from Moldavia made these for me when i was a child.

    • Ozlem Warren October 24, 2016 at 10:39 am #

      Thank you Kishinev, glad you enjoyed the rolled cabbage leaves, I love seeing the culinary heritage we share, similaries and differences for the recipes, thanks for stopping by.

  4. Shelley May 26, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    Wow! I am so glad I found your website! I cannot wait to start trying some of these recipes! I am from Australia and I am simply fascinated with all things Turkish! The rich history, delicious food and bright decor. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful recipes!

    • Ozlem Warren May 26, 2017 at 9:22 pm #

      Merhaba Shelley, thank you so much for your kind note, so glad you are enjoying Turkish cuisine and my recipes here, afiyet olsun!

  5. Steve May 25, 2021 at 8:00 am #

    Meehan a Ozlem
    I love your dolma Beyaz Lahana. Cok guzel!
    I worked in your homeland for many years every summer near Konya, such an interesting place. I live in Australia and make these to remind me of those times, happy days. I loved etliekmek as well!
    Cok tessekkurler Ozlem hanim,

    • Ozlem Warren May 25, 2021 at 1:29 pm #

      Merhaba Steve,

      Thank you so much for your kind note, lovely to hear you have such fond memories of your time in Turkey – love Etli Ekmek too : ) Glad you enjoyed my lahana sarmasi, afiyet olsun, cok selamlar, Ozlem


  1. Stuffed Peppers and Zucchini with Bulgur, Ground Meat and Spices; Antakya Style | Ozlem's Turkish Table - May 30, 2019

    […] is called sarma, here is the link for the recipe) and cabbage leaves (lahana sarma, here is the link for that recipe), either with an aromatic rice, pine nuts and currants or with ground meat, rice, […]

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