Lahanodolmades are delicious greek cabbage rolls that are guaranteed to warm your soul on a cold winter’s day!
These Greek Cabbage Rolls are classic comfort food that transports me back to my childhood. The hearty, yet light, rice and meat filling is wrapped with tender cabbage leaves and cooked in a refreshing, creamy egg-lemon sauce. There’s no cream in it, but I’ll show you how that happens.
If you’ve been following me for a while, I have a greek lemon chicken and orzo soup that has the same kind of sauce that goes on top. It’s so delicious.
Look for the biggest head of cabbage that you can get. Back in the day, they use to have these large heads of cabbage that were loose. The leaves weren’t packed tightly like the ones you usually find in the store. They were meant for and perfect for cabbage rolls. Now, it’s really hard to find those, so search for the biggest one you can find. If you can only find small heads, pick up two or three and you’ll have to do this in batches.
Cut the core out and put the head of cabbage in salted boiling water core side down. It will float in the water, so don’t expect the cabbage to be covered. Boil for about 15 minutes and turn it over to finish cooking. The leaves should be falling off. If they aren’t, use a couple of forks and help them separate. Watch my video to see exactly how to do that.
The filling for lemony lahanodolmades:
- Ground beef
- Olive oil
I use ground beef, but you can use your favorite ground meat. Get really fresh herbs for this too because the herbs are going to be what gives your cabbage rolls a lot of flavor.
I like to use a food processor for my herbs and onions. It makes it really easy and you don’t want chunks of onion. You want almost like a puree because the lighter the filling is going to be, the better it’s going to be. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a knife to finely chop your herbs. However, use a box grater to grate the onion so it’s a puree consistency… and have your tissues ready!
Mix your onion mix, beef, rice, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. You really want your filling to be very wet. So after you mix it all together, you’re going to add about ¼ to ½ cup of water. It will depend on how juicy your onion is and how much liquid it releases.
You’ll know your cabbage is ready when they’re loose and a bit translucent. When it’s ready, start pulling the leaves out with tongs and put them in a bowl. Don’t let them get too cooked because they’re going to continue to cook once they’re stuffed. Strain them and leave them in your bowl to cool.
Building your cabbage rolls
Start by putting a layer of carrots and celery in the bottom of your pot. This keeps your cabbage rolls from sitting directly on the heat and helps enhance the flavor of the broth.
Take a large cabbage leaf and cut the stem out. The stems make it hard to roll, so if you leave this part in the rolls are loose. They end up falling apart while cooking and make a mess. Add about a tablespoon or so to your leaf in proportion to your leaf. Fold the leaf over the filling and roll it up.
Once you’re done forming all of the cabbage rolls, put a layer of the leftover cabbage pieces over the vegetables that are in the bottom of your pot. Then start adding your rolls to the pot. Fit them in your pot nice and snug. Top the rolls with another layer of the leftover cabbage pieces. Get a heatproof plate to use as a weight on top. This will help to keep the rolls together while everything is simmering. Fill your pot with water all the way up to the plate. Once it comes to a boil, reduce to simmer until done.
Making your creamy egg-lemon sauce
Start with 3 egg yolks and add 2 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch. Add a touch of olive oil and your fresh lemon juice. Whisk it all together until your cornstarch is completely diluted. Temper your sauce, which is to raise the temperature. This will keep you from having scrambled eggs once you add it to your pot. Temper it by adding a little liquid from your pot while whisking it. Then, add a little more until it’s warm.
Pour your sauce into the pot and give it a nice shake. Don’t stir it because you don’t want to disturb your cabbage rolls. Let it come to a boil, turn the heat off and let it sit until your sauce becomes thick and creamy.
This is traditionally a fall dish, but it’s nice, light and refreshing. So, I eat it all year long. The lemony cabbage rolls are so soft, and you just need a good slice of crusty bread to go with it.
Also, try my lahanodolmades in tomato sauce!
- 1 large cabbage, stem removed
- 2 carrots
- 3 celery ribs
For the filling:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup water (or more)
- 1 small onion
- 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup chopped dill
- 1 teaspoon salt
- black pepper to taste
- 5-6 cups chicken broth or water
For the egg-lemon sauce:
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Boil the cabbage in salted boiling water with the cored part facing down. Flip it around and boil an additional 10-15 minutes until the leaves begin releasing easily and have become somewhat translucent. They should not be overcooked to the point where they become soft and mushy.
- Pull the leaves out as they detach from the cabbage and set them in a colander to drain.
- When you peel off most of the leaves and you get to the core with the smaller leaves it will be difficult to remove the leaves without ripping them. At this point just remove the small bunch with the core attached and place in the colander. It will be easier to separate them once they are cooled. Most of these leaves will be too small to use for the cabbage rolls so they will be used as the bed or cover.
- Roughly chop the carrots and celery into large chunks and place them in the bottom of your pot. These will be the bed that the cabbage rolls will sit on so that they do not come in direct contact with the heat and cook more gently. This will prevent them from falling apart while simmering.
- Use some of the small and shredded pieces of cabbage to cover the vegetables.
- Place half of the onion in a food processor and pulse until it is finely chopped. Add the parsley and puree until smooth. Place this mixture in a large mixing bowl.
- Pulse the remaining half of the onion until finely chopped. Add the dill and puree until smooth. Place this mixture in the mixing bowl.
- Add the ground beef, salt, pepper, rice, olive oil, and water to the pureed herbs and onion and mix well to combine. The best way to do this is by hand. Break up the ground beef and add 1/4 cup more water if the mixture is not very moist.
- A very moist, wet filling will make the best tasting cabbage rolls.
- To assemble the cabbage rolls, take a cabbage leaf and lay it flat on your work surface. Cut of the thickest part of the stem. Place a full tablespoon of the filling in the center, fold the left and right sides of the leaf over the filling then roll it up.
- Continue the same process adjusting the amount of filling depending on the size of the cabbage leaves (smaller leaves get less filling). Keep in mind that when the filling is cooked, the rice will expand a bit. Roll them up tight but giving enough room for the rice to expand.
- Some leaves may be very large. You can cut those in half and use them to make 2 rolls.
- Layer the cabbage rolls in the pot fitting them snug together.
- Cover them with cabbage leaves.
- Place a plate over them inverted. This will keep them in place so that they do not fall apart while cooking.
- Pour enough water or chicken broth to come right up to the plate.
- Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes.
- Carefully remove the plate and the extra cabbage leaves from the pot.
- Combiner the egg yolks, cornstarch, and lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk well until smooth.
- Add some of the hot broth to the egg mixture. Whisk well.
- Season with some more salt and pour the egg-lemon mixture into the pot. Carefully shake the pot from side to side to distribute the egg-lemon sauce.
- Bring to a boil. Taste the seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Remove from heat and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. The sauce will thicken as it sits.
- Serve with some warm toasted bread.