Middle Eastern Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Lamb & Bulgur

Cabbage Rolls from Belarus

Cabbage Rolls from Belarus

By Cat, June 2014 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1. Middle Eastern Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Chickpeas & Bulgur2. Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Rice & Mushrooms, and Lamb Variation (Eastern-European); 3. Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Rice, Lamb & Pork, with Tomato & Sour Cream Sauce (Eastern European); 4. Ethnic Food Menu

I’m more familiar with cabbage rolls from Eastern Europe, but this recipe from Lebanon 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.

Many people claim they don’t like lamb, but I contend they’ve never had it seasoned properly. The spices used in this recipe work very well with lamb. However, if you just can’t embrace giving it a try, use ground beef or venison, or even turkey.

Middle EAstern Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Lamb and Bulgur

This recipe is adapted from Eating Well (1); serves 4 (2 cabbage rolls and 2 Tbsp sauce per serving). For more about bulgur, see Wheat (about), and scroll down to ‘Bulgur & Bulgur Flour.”

You can use other meats, such as ground turkey, beef or venison; however the spices in this recipe work best with lamb. And while the recipe calls for Savoy cabbage (a closed-head cabbage with crinkly leaves), you can use other closed-head cabbage as well, following the same instructions. Open-head cabbage can also be used, but the rolls will be smaller. See The Kitchn: Know your Cabbage! (2) for more about the different types.

Ingredients & Equipment

  • ½ cup bulgur
  • 1 large head Savoy cabbage
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 12 oz (¾ lb) ground lamb
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ cup chicken stock or vegetable broth
  • 1 lemon (for 2 tsp grated lemon zest & 3 Tbsp lemon juice, divided)
  • 1 egg yolk


  • medium and small bowls
  • stock pot (a pot large enough to hold the head of cabbage submerged in water)
  • cast iron skillet
  • 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking pan
  • Small saucepan



  1. Prepare (soften) bulgur with ¾ cup boiling water in medium bowl. Cover and let stand about 20 minutes, until bulgur is tender. Strain of any remaining water.


The original recipe has you remove 8 leaves and soften them by cooking in simmering water, and reserving the remaining leaves for the pan. However, it can be very difficult to remove the leaves from closed-head cabbage, when raw. The solution is to:

  • Using a knife, cut out the core of the cabbage.
  • Heat a pot of water to boiling over high heat.
  • Immerse the head of cabbage into the water, and reduce heat to medium high, and simmer about 5 – 7 minutes.
  • Carefully remove the 8 largest leaves (I’d remove an extra leaf, just in case one tears while rolling).
  • Reserve remaining leaves.

Prepare Stuffing

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion and leeks. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, 5 to 8 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and mint.
  3. Stir salt, pepper, turmeric, ginger, allspice and cinnamon into the onion mixture; cook, stirring, 1 minute more.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the bulgur and let stand until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Add the ground lamb, parsley, and mint.

NOTE: you can make ahead up to this point; however, do not add the egg until ready to continue. Refrigerate cabbage and stuffing separately, up to one day.

  • When ready to continue, add lightly beaten egg. Gently knead the mixture with your hands until well blended.

Assemble and Bake

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Line baking pan with some of the reserved cabbage leaves.
  3. Working on a clean counter or cutting board, form the cabbage rolls: Lay out a cooked cabbage leaf with the root-end toward you. Place about ½ cup filling on the root end. Roll up to form a bundle, folding in the sides to form a bundle, then lay in the pan, seam-side down. Repeat with remaining leaves. If you have filling left over, fill more of the leaves, but try to keep them in one layer in the pan.
  4. Combine wine, broth, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Pour over the cabbage rolls. Cover tightly with foil.
  5. Bake until the thicker ribs of the cabbage leaves are very tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into a roll registers at least 165°F, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Make sauce and serve

  1. Transfer the rolls and cabbage leaves to a serving platter; tent with foil to keep warm.
  2. Carefully pour the juice from the pan into a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil until reduced by about half, 6 to 10 minutes.
  3. Whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice and egg yolk in a small bowl.
  4. Whisk the reduced liquid into the lemon-yolk mixture, then pour the sauce back into the pan. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 4 minutes. (Take care not to overheat the sauce or the egg will curdle.)
  5. Serve the rolls with the sauce.


  1. Eating Well recipe (eatingwell.com/recipes/Lebanese_cabbage_rolls.html)
  2. The Kitchn, Know your Cabbage! (thekitchn.com/know-your-cabbages-green-red-s-112856)

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