Middle Eastern Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Chickpeas & Bulgur

Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Sauce

Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Sauce

By Cat, Oct 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1. Middle Eastern Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Lamb and Bulgur; 2. Eastern-European Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Rice & Mushrooms, & with Lamb Variation3. Eastern European Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Rice, Lamb & Pork, with Tomato & Sour Cream Sauce; 4. Ethnic Food Menu

I’m more familiar with cabbage rolls from Eastern Europe, but this recipe from Syria appeals to me, for its different flavors. Actually, some type of cabbage roll is found in most ethnic cuisines – or something similar like stuffed grape leaves from the Mediterranean.

The leaves of open-head cabbage (such as Napa), are softer and easier to remove than closed head cabbage.  But if you first soften a closed-head cabbage by removing the core and steaming (or cooking in boiling water) the whole head for a few minutes, the outer leaves will be soft enough to separate from the head easily.  I think the softened leaves of a closed-head cabbage are easier to form into pockets to hold the stuffing.

Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Chickpeas and Bulgur

The Syrian name for this dish is Mihshee Malfoof bi Burghul.

This recipe is adapted from The Big Oven (1), serves 4 (I halved the original). Originally, I found this recipe on Vegetarian Journal, Jan-Feb 2004 (2), but the link for that site is no longer valid. I was lucky to find it on The Big Oven site (1).

By combining a legume (chickpeas or garbanzos) and a grain (bulgur), a more complete protein profile is created. Sprouting the chickpeas before cooking, and making your own bulgur from wheat berries (by sprouting, then dehydrating) improves the nutrient profile even more. For more about bulgur, see Wheat (about), and scroll down to ‘Bulgur & Bulgur Flour.”

This recipe uses closed-head green cabbage, which is also my preference, but you could use open-head cabbage (like Napa), but the rolls will be smaller. Unlike most cabbage roll recipes, this version is not baked, but rather cooked on top of the stove.

Start the day before you plan to serve, to soak the chickpeas. If you want to sprout them first, start 3 days before serving. Of course, you could use commercially-canned chickpeas, but I prefer to cook my own.


  • large covered saucepan or saucier, wide enough to accommodate an inverted dinner plate.
  • dinner plate

Ingredients & Method:

Chickpeas (garbanzos)

  • ½  lb dried chick-peas (garbanzos), or enough to make 1 ¼ cups cooked chickpeas
  • warm filtered water
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice for each quart of water
  1. Cover chick-peas with warm water.  Stir in lemon juice and leave in a warm place overnight (7 – 12 hours).  Check after a few hours and add more water as necessary.
  2. Drain beans, rinse and put in saucier.  Cover chick-peas with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cook for about 1 hour or longer, until tender.


  • 1 small head of cabbage – I prefer closed-head, but include method for open-head as well.

To soften closed-head cabbage leaves:

  1. Remove core from cabbage with knife.  Place in a pot of boiling water (or in a steam pot) for a few minutes to soften leaves.
  2. Remove from water and carefully remove the leaves from the center strips; set strips aside (they get used in the baking pan).
  3. Cut large outer leaf sections in half (smaller sections can remain whole).  Set aside.

To prepare open-head cabbage leaves:

  1. Cut the leaves at the point where the leaf begins. Use the stems in place of “center strips” in the recipe.
  2. In a pot in which the large leaves will lie flat, heat water to boiling.  Put in the leaves, cover, and bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 3 – 4 minutes, or long enough so that the leaves will bend without breaking as you roll them.
  3. Remove leaves.

Stuffing for Cabbage Rolls

  • ½ cup coarse bulgur
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large, ripe tomato, finely chopped (or 2 Tbsp Tomato Paste)
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro leaves (finely chopped), or ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 Tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp Unrefined sea salt, or more to taste
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • ¼ – ½ tsp ground cumin
  • tiny pinch cayenne
  1. Place all ingredients in a bowl, and mix thoroughly, using your hands and working the mixture through your fingers.
  2. Place some filling on the wide end of a cabbage leaf and roll, tucking in the ends in the process. Continue until all leaves are finished.


  • 4 – 6 cloves garlic, minced or very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • ½ tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper

Assemble & Serve

  1. Cover bottom of large saucepan with pieces of center strips, and any remaining extra leaves.  Then add rolls, arranging them side by side.  Sprinkle with a little salt and scatter the minced garlic over.  If need be, add a second layer, alternated over the first.
  2. Invert a plate on top of the top layer, to weight them in the pan (keep them from floating).  Pour tomato juice and enough water to just cover the plate.
  3. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook over medium heat for 50 minutes, or until bulgur is well done.  Serve hot or cold, with some of the tomato sauce from the pan.


  1. The Big Oven recipe (bigoven.com/recipe/syrian-cabbage-rolls-mihshee-malfoof-bi-burghul/161049)
  2. The Vegetarian Journal, Jan-Feb 2004 NOTE: Original recipe url is no longer valid, and I cannot find the correct link. The invalid url is findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FDE/is_1_23/ai_n6026347/pg_2
  3. Eating Well recipe (eatingwell.com/recipes/Lebanese_cabbage_rolls.html)

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