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Stuffed cabbage leaves | Kelem dolmasi

Kelem dolmasi - Stuffed cabbage leaves
The term dolma covers a variety of stuffed vegetable dishes, widespread in the Middle East and Mediterranean area.

Cabbage dolma, or stuffed cabbage leaves, are popular all year round in Azerbaijan, but especially in winter when other vegetables are not so widely available. We give below a standard filling for cabbage dolma with chickpeas.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 as a main meal, 6-8 as an appetizer


  • 500 g/1 lb 4 oz minced lamb or 250 g/10 oz minced lamb and 250 g/10 oz minced beef
  • 1 large (1 kg/2.2 lbs)white cabbage
  • 200 g/8 oz onion
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/2 tspn turmeric
  • 1/2 tspn cinnamon
  • fresh herbs if available – coriander, mountain coriander, dill, mint
  • 50 g/2 oz short-grain rice
  • 50 g/2 oz chickpeas (optional)
  • 80 g/3.2 oz lamb fat (traditional) or butter (for a lighter filling)
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste or 2 fresh tomatoes or 1 quince


  • Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in cold water. Rinse.
  • Peel and chop the onion. Add the onion, spices, chickpeas, chopped herbs, fat and salt and pepper to the minced meat and mix well with your hands.
  • Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add salt. Trim off the outer leaves of the cabbage. Place the whole cabbage in the boiling water and leave to simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. (The blanched cabbage leaves will be softer and easier to use.) Remove the cabbage from the water, peel off the outer leaves and put in a colander to drain. When you get down to the unblanched part of the cabbage, return it to the boiling water for a few more minutes. Remove from the water and repeat the process of peeling off the cabbage leaves.
  • If the cabbage is very large, it is better to peel off the leaves and then blanche them.
  • Lay the blanched leaves on a chopping board or other flat surface, smooth side down, and cut out the tough central stalk. If the leaves are very large, cut them in half.
  • Place a generous tablespoonful of filling in the middle of each leaf and shape into a roll or a square. Fold in the sides and ends and roll into a tight package.
  • Place the discarded and unused leaves at the bottom of a large saucepan. Pack the stuffed cabbage leaves on top.
  • Place an inverted dessert plate or saucer on top of the dolma and weigh down with a heavy object, such as a stone. This helps to stop the dolma unwrapping during cooking. Add water to the pan almost up to the level of the plate. Don’t cover the dolma with water as they will release their own juice during cooking.
  • Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Add slices of quince to the pan and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • If not using quince, pour a simple tomato sauce over the dolma 5 minutes before they are cooked (i.e. after they have simmered for 25 minutes). To make the tomato sauce, either add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste to a cup of boiling water and mix well, or melt butter or other oil in a frying pan, add the tomato paste or 2 chopped fresh tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the dolma.
  • Serve cabbage dolma with some of the cooking liquid spooned on top, a few chopped fresh herbs (optional) and fresh bread to mop up the juices.

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