I was not a fan of Greek grape-leaf dolmades when I was a kid, but I have thankfully gotten my act together. However, cabbage rolls are just as good… and so much bigger!
The word “dolmades” (dohl-MAH-thes) refers to any filling wrapped by a leaf of some sort, but for the most part it’s used to refer to those that have grape leaves. The word “lahano” (LAH-hah-noh) is Greek for cabbage. Put them together and you get “lahanodolmades” (lah-hah-noh-dohl-MAH-thes), and there you go!
Greeks are by no means the only ones to make these kinds of dishes, but how the leaves are prepared and the ingredients chosen for the fillings will vary from one region to another. I’ve become a huge fan of fermenting my cabbage heads, which is popular in areas of northern Greece and other nearby countries like Romania. The flavor that it adds is out of this world, but you do have to be patient since the process takes a minimum of six weeks. Trust me, it’s worth the wait (but you don’t need them for this recipe).
This particular recipe is very distinctly Greek, though, because of the use of avgolemono (ahv-go-LEH-moh-noh) sauce. This rich and thick sauce made with eggs and lemon adds so much flavor as well as nutrients to so many dishes. It will also vary in flavor since it is made with the broth from the dish it will be used with, and any left over can be added to broth to make a delicious soup very like Greek avgolemono soup.
Some quick notes before you begin:
I used ground beef for this recipe, but ground pork or lamb are also a great alternatives that will work just as well with the rest of the ingredients. You could even make a mixture of any combination of these meats.
Rolling cabbage leaves is pretty easy. You just want to make sure that you roll them snugly around the filling so that they don’t fall apart when they are cooking. At the same time, you don’t want to do it too tight (which is kind of hard to do anyway), otherwise they may burst when cooking as the rice expands.
Be sure to start with very hot broth. This kick starts the cooking process and reduces the time you’re waiting for the broth to heat up properly. You want to be able to cook the entire time on a lower heat and cold broth will take too long to get up to a proper temperature.
If you decide to go with fermented cabbage heads, keep in mind that the leaves will already have salt in them, so be sure to adjust accordingly for the filling and the broth you use. You can get my recipe for the process here.
If you decide to use fresh cabbage heads, you will still need to prepare them for rolling. They’ll need to be blanched in order to soften the leaves so that they become flexible enough to wrap around the filling. See my process for properly preparing the cabbage leaves here.
The amount of cabbage heads you will need will depend on their size and number of leaves large enough for rolling. If you have very large cabbages, you may want to start with one. The filling can always be frozen for later if you realize you need more cabbage.
Leftover filling and cabbage leaves can be used to make this soup!
You will be stuffing the rolls with raw ground beef, so be mindful of cleanliness to avoid spreading any potential food pathogens.
Lahanodolmades (Greek Cabbage Rolls with Avgolemono Sauce)
- 1 1/2 lb. ground beef, pork, or lamb
- 1 cup white rice
- 1 to 2 diced onions (about 3/4 to 1 lb.)
- 4 to 5 finely chopped cloves of garlic
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- up to 2 quarts, or more as needed, of hot broth, any variety (you will want low sodium if you are using fermented cabbage heads)
- cabbages (the amount needed will depend on their size and number of usable leaves)
- avgolemono sauce (see recipe here)
Put all the ingredients except the broth and cabbage in a large bowl and smoosh it all together. You want everything to be well incorporated and uniformly mixed. To test if you want to adjust the salt and pepper, cook a small amount in a fry pan or the microwave to give a taste test. The rice won’t have cooked, but you’ll still get an idea if you want to add more.
Lay a cabbage leaf on a flat surface with the inside facing up. Add a spoonful of filling to the bottom portion of the leaf. Roll the bottom of the leaf over the filling then fold over the sides. Continue rolling the cabbage to the top of the leaf, tucking in sides as needed. See the pictures to help.
Place each roll in a well oiled pot, seam side down to prevent the rolls from becoming undone. Put the rolls in snugly. You can put the rolls in up to three layers, but for uniform cooking it’s best to aim for no more than two.
Pour the hot broth gently over the rolls, giving the pot a little shake to remove air bubbles. Add enough broth to cover the rolls. Quickly lay a flat object like a plate to weigh down the rolls, or they will beging to float and unravel.
Cover the pot and place on the stove on medium-low heat. You want to maintain a low simmer, not a boil. Cook for 50 to 60 minutes or until the rice is tender and the meat cooked thoroughly. Be sure to occassionally check to see if more broth is needed to keep the rolls covered with liquid the entire time.
When the rolls are done, remove the pot from the heat. Be careful when removing the plate as it will be slippery and hot. I like to use silicone tipped tongs to help remove the rolls without tearing them. Place the rolls on a plate and prepare the avgolemono sauce with the broth in the pot. You may want to strain the broth to remove any bits of filling that may have spilled out.
Serve the rolls with the avgolemono sauce on the side, or poured over. Enjoy!