Armenian Stuffed Cabbage (Dolmas)
In Armenian and nearby Middle Eastern cuisines, dolma refers to a family of stuffed vegetable dishes, most often wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves. You can use this same meat-and-rice filling—and a similar steaming technique—to hollow out and stuff zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, or peppers. Dolmas taste best warm, and leftovers can be resteamed one or more times as desired.
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- 2 medium heads green cabbage (about 5 pounds), cored, leaves carefully removed and reserved
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1⁄2 cup tomato paste
- Kosher salt
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1⁄4 cup short-grain white rice
- 1 large yellow onion, minced (1 1/2 cups)
- 2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
- 2 tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 2 tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 1⁄2 tsp. dried basil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 small tomatoes, preferably on the vine
- Trim away the thick stalks of the cabbage leaves as needed and reserve; keep the leaves intact. Cut any very large leaves in half.
- In a large pot of simmering, well-salted water (the water should taste like the ocean), add 3 to 4 cabbage leaves at a time and simmer until just pliable, 3 to 5 minutes; remove gently using a slotted spoon. Set aside to cool. Drain the water from the pot and add the butter. Heat over medium heat until melted, then whisk in the tomato paste and 2 cups water until smooth. Season with salt, turn off the heat, and reserve.
- In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, rice, onion, and fresh and dried herbs; season with 3⁄4 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, distribute the cabbage scraps in an even layer. Pour in the prepared tomato sauce and set aside.
- Working with one cabbage leaf at a time on a clean, flat work surface, place a scant 2 tablespoons. of the beef mixture in a 2-inch line in the bottom center of each leaf. Fold the sides of the leaves over the filling to cover, then tightly roll the leaves like cigars. Transfer the dolmas seam side down to the pot atop the cabbage scraps. Pack the whole tomatoes (remove the vine) among the dolmas.
- Partially cover the pan and bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer; steam the dolmas until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice is tender, about 45 minutes (add small amounts of water only as needed to steam). Transfer the dolmas to a platter if desired, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Serve warm with any remaining sauce spooned on top.