Monday, February 25, 2013

Lentil Stuffed Cabbage Leaves
(Lahanodolmathes Orfana)


There's a scene in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the Greek family is horrified that the man their daughter is about to marry, is a vegetarian. The news silences the room and everyone's faces drop with pity for the man.

This is something I go through A LOT, with friends and family members thinking that I'm missing out on something that would otherwise make my life wonderful. That being a vegetarian is something that I must be really struggling with. That life without meat must be devastating for me.

So it's no surprise that the word "Orfana" is used at the end of a Greek dish title to indicate that it's a vegetarian version of a dish that would normally contain meat. The dish is considered "orphaned" without its meat component. This probably originated from a time when poorer families had to resort to eating meatless dishes when they couldn't afford to buy meat. Meat was for the fortunate ones, and if you couldn't afford it, you just had to settle for the much more inferior, poor-man's version of the dish.

It's interesting then, that there exists so many delicious Greek vegetarian dishes. These dishes may have once emerged as a result of the poorer times in Greece, but the fact that they still exist in today's Greek cuisine indicates that there's no denying these dishes actually taste really good without meat!


One such dish is Lahanodolmathes Orfana which are cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and herbs, and slow cooked in either an egg and lemon sauce or a rich tomato sauce.

In my version of this dish I have added lentils to the rice mix. I love the combination of rice and lentils, especially when used as a stuffing. The lentils help hold everything together, and add a bit of bulk and texture to the filling. They also taste lovely when cooked in a tomato sauce so my recipe today utilises the lentil and rice filling, a rich tomato sauce, and the gigantic cabbage that I received in my organic veggie box last week.


Lentil Stuffed Cabbage Leaves (Lahanodolmathes Orfana)



Serves 4–5

Ingredients

  • 1 large cabbage
  • 2 cups cooked lentils
  • 1/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

For the tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons honey or 1 teaspoon sugar

Instructions

  1. Place whole cabbage in a large pot, cover with water, bring to the boil and let simmer for 5 or 6 minutes.
  2. While the cabbage is cooking, fry the garlic for one minute until fragrant, then add chopped tomatoes, oregano, cinnamon, honey (or sugar) and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the tomato mixture to the boil and allow to simmer until you finish preparing the cabbage leaves (around 20 minutes).
  3. Heat remaining oil in a separate pot and set the onions to fry over low heat for around 20 minutes, or until golden, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, remove cooked cabbage from pot, drain and rinse under cold water. Carefully remove 8 to 10 large leaves from the cabbage, blot dry with a paper towel and trim thick parts of the stem using a paring knife, being careful not to slice through the cabbage leaf. The idea is to make the leaf as uniformly thin as possible, to enable easy rolling.
  5. Roughly chop up the remaining cabbage and use about two cups of this to cover the bottom of a heavy-based saute pan. You will need a pan that is around 25cm diameter with 6cm-high vertical sides and a lid. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.
  6. Place cooked lentils, cooked onions and tomato paste in a large bowl, mix with your hands and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add uncooked rice and egg and continue to mix with your hands until well combined. The mixture will be quite sloppy but will firm up when cooked.
  7. Remove tomato sauce from heat, cover and set aside. It should have been cooking for at least 15 minutes, but no longer than 30 minutes.
  8. Place about three teaspoons of the lentil filling onto a cabbage leaf and carefully roll up, folding in the sides before completing the roll, and place seam-side down on the bed of chopped cabbage in the saute pan.
  9. Repeat with remaining mixture and arrange all cabbage rolls in one layer in the saute pan.
  10. Pour tomato sauce over cabbage rolls until completely covered. It should look like this:


  11. If the sauce doesn't completely cover the rolls, add water.
  12. Place lid over pan and simmer on very low heat for 2 hours.

This dish is hearty and healthy and freezes really well. Just defrost and reheat in a saucepan over low heat with the lid on. You can add a small amount of water if necessary.


I'm linking this post with Veggie Mama's Meatless Mondays. Go take a look for some more fantastic vegetarian recipe ideas.


24 comments:

  1. Nothing sad about this! Looks magnificent (and delish too!). Great recipe again Lisa.

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    1. That's right, no tears of pity shed here! If anything, I pity poor Tony (my no-carb-diabetic-dieting partner) for not being able to eat these!

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  2. This sounds absolutely delicious! Nothing orphan-like about it at all :)

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    1. It's quite funny that food without meat is considered orphaned. I can't quite picture meat being very parent-like...

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  3. Gosh that is fascinating! I did not know that is what it meant. Like you, I definitely see those looks of pity and people wondering if I'm living life deprived of all that is wonderful. I ain't! Especially now I've got these cabbage rolls to make!

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    1. You should hear my mum. Sometimes she feels so sorry for me, "Come on Lisa, just eat some fish. No one has to know.." In Greece it's worse – one of my dad's neighbours once said to me, "but you can eat rabbit because they eat grass". I'm not kidding. Really, I'm not.

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  4. Hi Lisa, this recipe looks phenomenal and is definitely on the list for this week. I was thrilled to discover your blog being a relatively new vegetarian and a massive fan of greek food. Your photos are incredible and the recipes delicious. Thank you for all your hard work!

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    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment Megan – and I'm thrilled you found my blog too! I only just started it in January and am really humbled by the response I've had from people so far. Hope to see you here again soon!

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  5. Hi :) I only just discovered your blog and I'm so glad I did! I'm not veggie but we don't eat very much meat and we both love Greek food, so it's lovely to see so much here to choose from! Looking forward to going back through the archives as well :) Meredith x

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    1. Hi Meredith! I'd love to know how you found my blog. That's great you love Greek food – of course you'll find plenty of it here! Thanks for the comment and hope to see you again soon!

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  6. Orfana--that is too funny! You know, I get that reaction a lot too. I think people are genuinely surprised when I tell them I don't miss meat at all. Not even a little bit! I think the abundance of meat substitutes on the market today gives people the impression that vegetarians are just starving for something that tastes like meat. Maybe this is true for some, but definitely not me. I can't wait to make these--it's been so long since I had stuffed cabbage!

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    1. It's true, a vegetarian diet is much more rich and varied than most non-vegetarian people think, and unless you commit to vegetarianism and discover how many wonderful ingredients there are to work with, I guess you might not know any different! Yay to cabbage!!

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  7. i LOVE stuffed cabbage! this looks perfect and i can't wait to make it.

    i had a similar experience when i first went vegan. not really pity, more like people constantly offering me non-vegan food when they new fully well i was vegan. and when i said, "no thank you", they'd respond, "why??" like they wanted to get into an uncomfortable conversation with me. luckily, those days are long gone ;) except when my dad offers me a piece of meat when we're out to dinner and then says, "oh yeah, i forgot." haha..i've been vegan for 7 years and he still forgets :P

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    1. Yes, after ten years my still dad forgets too!! My mum just "pretends" to forget.

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  8. Interesting! I have never boiled a cabbage or made a recipe like this, I'm surprised that it has to be simmered for two hours. It looks really good! I haven't gotten a negative reaction about vegetarianism for a really long time, I guess that says something good about my friends and relatives!

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    1. Hi Mary! The extended simmering time really thickens up the tomato sauce and intensifies the flavour - it's definitely worth the wait!

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  9. This looks wonderful, and I'm planning to make it for dinner tomorrow night. Please clarify the size of the cans of chopped tomatoes. Two cans 14 oz each, or two cans 28 oz each? Thanks!

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    1. Hi Barbara! Ohhh I'm glad you're making these tomorrow :) The canned tomatoes are 400g which is 14 ounces. Thanks for pointing that out for me - I have now updated the ingredient list. Hope you love the dish!

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    2. Thanks, Lisa! My daughter and son-in-law are vegetarian, and we all love Greek food. This is going to be a special dinner for their 22nd wedding anniversary, so I'm counting on you that this is a great recipe (I'm sure it is!). Thanks so much!

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    3. Oh goodness, I hope it works out ok for you! (the pressure!!!). Just one tip: use the largest cabbage leaves you can find. Might be best to buy two cabbages and only use the large leaves of each. They become very hard to roll up when you get down to the smaller leaves. Good luck and happy anniversary to your daughter and son-in-law :)

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  10. This does look delicious! I am not vegetarian yet, but am leaning more and more that way. One question: instead of simmering on the stovetop for 2 hours, can it be placed in the oven, say in a 9x13?

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    1. Hi Rebecca! Sorry for my late response. I've never tried this dish in the oven but I think it probably could work, as long as it is covered and the oven is set to around 170 degrees celsius. It needs to keep bubbling, but you don't want it to cook too quickly. I would keep checking to make sure it doesn't dry out. I would guess it may not need as long in the oven to cook, perhaps an hour and a half? I'd be interested to hear how you went with this!

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