There are certain family traditions and meals that were a staple in our families as kids that we simply will never be able to duplicate in exactly the same way. While my parents and I found Saturday’s cooking experiment both fun and delicious, Billy just didn’t get the results he wanted. I guess nothing is as good as Grandma’s, right? We can all attest to that….

Regardless of whether the rolls were “perfect,” we had a chance to carry on a family tradition. And, whether Billy will agree or not, they were tasty! I think Grandma Alice would be proud. (Anyway, this won’t be the last time we attempt the “long, tight” rolls his grandma is famous for.)

Here’s what you’ll need
– large, whole cabbage leaves (as many as you can get from one head of cabbage)
– 1 cup long grain white rice
– 1/2 lb lamb, cut into small cubes
– salt and pepper
– 1 pinch each, cinnamon and nutmeg
– 1 tbsp butter, melted
– lemon juice

First, make the filling for the rolls by rinsing the rice with water and then combining it with the lamb, seasonings and butter. Meanwhile, blanch the cabbage leaves for about 30 seconds before soaking in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Finally, drain the leaves and create two rolls out of each leaf by cutting out the hard middle part of each cabbage leaf (you can carefully tear each side off the middle vein). Once all the leaves have been blanched and cut, you’re ready to roll!

Spoon one to two teaspoons of the filling at the bottom of each leaf. Very tightly, but carefully, roll the leaf and the filling, tucking in the sides if necessary. Make sure the roll is tight so the filling doesn’t sneak out during cooking, and place it directly into the pot. (The rolls should look like mini burritos made of cabbage.) Continue rolling until all the leaves or filling have been used, whichever comes first. Once all the leaves have been rolled and placed in the pot, cover them with a flat plate and fill the pot with water about an inch above the rolls. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice and lamb are cooked through. In the last few minutes of cooking, add a few drops of lemon juice.

Cabbage Roll, Pre-Roll

Cabbage Roll, Pre-Roll

My 'Billy-Approved' Roll!

My 'Billy-Approved' Roll!

The best way to get the rolls out of the pot is to carefully flip the pot over (over the sink so water doesn’t go everywhere) so all the rolls fall onto the plate that was holding them down. Cabbage rolls and grape leaves are traditionally served with a dollop of yogurt. I know it sounds interesting, but believe me — it really is good. It gives the rice a great creamy texture and you can’t even taste a difference.

Cabbage Rolls and Grape Leaves with Yogurt

Cabbage Rolls and Grape Leaves with Yogurt

Before meeting Billy I couldn’t even tell you what Arabic food was. Now, I don’t know how I lived without it before. While Billy will always believe that his Grandma and Great-Grandma’s food is better than his, I will always compliment his efforts and eat all the leftovers! Our rolls didn’t turn out perfect, some of them fell apart during cooking, but I thought we did a pretty good job for our first time. I think, of all the Arabic food Billy and his family have cooked for me, that cabbage rolls are officially my favorite. Even though the filling is the same as Koussa, the taste is completely different. The filling in the cabbage rolls is more the “star” as compared to the Koussa and the texture of the cabbage really adds to the dish as a whole.

P.S. If using grape leaves, do everything the exact same except there’s no need to blanch the leaves.

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