We love stuffed vegetables, dolmas in Turkish cuisine and I have a soft spot for this delicious stuffed cabbage leaves with bulgur, onions and ground meat, Bulgurlu Lahana Sarmasi, Antakya style (“Dolma” is the term used for stuffed vegetables, as in peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and “Sarma” is the term used for rolled leaves in Turkish cuisine). Bulgur is flavored here with the dried mint (the star spice here), cumin and red pepper flakes, along with onion and parsley. It makes a delicious filling even without the meat; so by all means omit the meat for a vegetarian version. I remember as a child so eagerly waiting for this delicious sarma to cook; mother would ask whether we would like to do a “quality check” of the rolls from the pot and we tuck in at that very minute, happy days.
Tip for separating the cabbage leaves; try to get a large cabbage with big, straight leaves. Trim the bottom root and place the cabbage as whole in a large pan with boiling water and simmer for 8 minutes. The leaves will start to peel off without breaking. Please save the hard stalk or the hard middle part of the cabbage leaves; they are delicious in Lahana Kapuska; cabbage cooked with rice, onions, ground meat and spices, a sort of deconstructed rolled cabbage leaves – my recipe link is here.
Wholesome grain bulgur is widely used in southern Turkish cuisine in mezzes, salads, stuffed vegetables and in bulgur pilaf. Cooked in lemony olive oil sauce, it makes a delicious pairing with cabbage here; all you need is some plain yoghurt aside to enjoy this delicious Bulgurlu Lahana Sarmasi. You can use (1 tbsp.) pomegranate molasses instead of lemon juice in the sauce if you’d like a sharper taste.
My roots go back to ancient Antioch, Antakya and I love sharing Antakya’s delicious, diverse cuisine, along with other healthy, wholesome Turkish recipes, all included at my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, Recipes from My Homeland. Signed copies available at this link, if you’d like a copy.
I hope you enjoy our family favorite; Afiyet Olsun,
- 200 gr/ 7 oz. / 1 cup coarse bulgur
- 1 large cabbage (which yields about 20 large to medium cabbage leaves)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 225 gr/ 8 oz. ground (minced) beef or lamb
- Small bunch of parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 30 ml / 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 15 ml / 1 tbsp. dried mint
- 5 ml/ 1 tsp. cumin
- 5 ml/ 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- For the sauce:
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed with salt and finely chopped
- 15 ml / 1 tbsp. olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon (or 1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses)
- 500 ml / 1 pint / 2 cups of water
- 15 ml / 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- Dried mint and red pepper flakes to serve
- Plain yoghurt to serve
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.
- Trim the bottom root and place the cabbage as whole in the pan with boiling water and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
- Remove the cabbage and leave it to cool. Then take a sharp knife and cut the outer leaves from the main stalk. The rest of the leaves will start to peel off without breaking one by one. Peel off about 20 large to medium leaves for rolling and set them aside (Please save the hard stalk or the hard middle part of the cabbage leaves, that is too small or hard to roll; they are delicious in Lahana Kapuska; cabbage cooked with rice, onions, ground meat and spices, which I will also share in the coming weeks).
- For the filling; combine the bulgur, chopped onion, parsley, olive oil, dried mint, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper in a large bowl. Knead well with your hands for a few minutes. Stir in the ground meat and knead for another minute to combine well.
- With a sharp knife, carefully trim and make a V shape cut to remove the thickest part of the stalk from the base of each cabbage leaf. Place 1 to 1 ½ tablespoon of the filling (depending on the size of the leaf) in the middle of the leaf. Fold in the sides and then roll the leaf up tightly. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
- Place the rolled leaves tightly in a heavy pan with seam side down, do the second layer too and pack tightly.
- For the sauce, mix together the water, olive oil, lemon juice (or 1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses), tomato paste and chopped garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste. Pour this sauce over the rolled cabbage leaves (the water should just about to cover the top of the rolled cabbage leaves). Place a plate on top of the leaves to stop them unraveling during cooking.
- Cover the pan and cook on low heat over stove top or burner for 40 – 45 minutes, simmering gently.
- Once cabbage rolls are cooked, serve hot, decorated with dried mint and red pepper flakes. Plain yoghurt complements this delicious cabbage rolls with bulgur filling, bulgurlu lahana sarmasi, beautifully. Afiyet Olsun.