August 08, 2013

Dolmeh Barg-e Kalam - Persian Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

Persian Stuffed Cabbage Leaves-Dolmeh Barg-e Kalam

دلمه برگ کلم - Dolmeh barg-e kalam (stuffed cabbage leaves) is a variation of the well-known and popular stuffed vegetable genre known as dolma/dolmeh in Iran as well as among neighboring countries and different regions. This recipe was a staple in our home growing up and one of my mother's personal favorites. I had heard my mother's tale many times of how one Nowruz (Persian New year) when she was young, she single-handedly stuffed about 100 cabbage leaves with aromatic herbs, rice, meat, and some raisins. And how this dish became her most exquisite and memorable dolmeh-ye kalam for all those family members, distant relatives, and friends who were visiting during the Nowruz holiday.

To achieve the best results in preparing Persian meals, besides having the basic culinary skills, you'll need to have a sense of appreciation for the creativity, wisdom, care, and labor that goes into most Iranian dishes. Along with cooking skills and enthusiasm, you will need a little patience as well.  Persian food takes time to make but don't let that discourage you. In cooking, every ingredient counts and every step is important. For those who are pressed for time or are not that into cooking, many classic Persian meals are perfect for any time of the day such as kookoo sibzamini, kookoo sabzi, borani esfenaj, kotlet, noon o panir o gerdoo (bread, cheese, and walnuts) or noon o mast (bread and yogurt).
Iranian Dolmeh-ye Barg-e Kalam- Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

While the tasty dolmeh-ye barg kalam is simmering away in a rich tomato-based sauce on the stove, I think about those before us who prepared meals for their families many centuries ago, cooking food over wood-fires when water could only be reached through قنات - qanat, چاه آب - water wells or چشمه springs. Somehow, they managed to preserve and verbally pass on their way of cooking to the next generation to carry on the task of feeding the family. I feel strongly about maintaining the authenticity of our recipes as much as we can and do not let them be forgotten, overlooked, or given up by our hectic and hurried lifestyles.  I leave you with this poem by Saadi Shirazi:

ابر و باد و مه و خورشید و فلک در کارند              تا تو نانی به کف آری و به غفلت نخوری
سعدی شیرازی ~
Clouds, wind, fog, the sun, and the universe are all at work so that you would earn a loaf of bread and not consume it in oblivion.

This dolmeh recipe usually has a sweet-sour flavor. However, depending on your preferences you can adjust the amount of sugar or lemon juice/vinegar to your liking. I don't add any sugar to my dolmeh since I like them more on the sour side. If you like adding raisins to the filling then that adds enough natural sweetness to the dolmeh which is a much healthier choice than sugar. You can add equal parts barberries and raisins to bring about the natural and delicately sweet-sour flavor in this dish. I also need to point out that my mother's original recipe did not include any tomato sauce - that's just my own addition, an ode to tomatoes.

Dolmeh Barg-e Kalam - Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

Serves 6

1 large cabbage, washed, center core removed

For filling:

2/3 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup long-grain rice, rinsed
1/2 cup yellow split peas, rinsed
1 1/2 cups of chopped fresh herbs (a combination of flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, chives, dill, basil, tarragon, mint) washed, hard stems removed
1/4 - 1/2 cup raisins *optional
1/4 - 1/2 cup barberries *optional
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
A pinch of cumin
2 tablespoons liquid saffron
Salt and pepper

For the Sauce:

2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Juice of a large lemon/lime or a tablespoon of vinegar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar *optional
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil/olive oil


  1. In a large pot, bring 6-8 cups of water to a boil over high heat, add a tablespoon of salt, gently add the head of cabbage into the boiling water, cook for 10 minutes. Drain. Peel each cabbage leaf, cut out the hard rib in each leaf. Set aside. 
  2. In a large skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat, add the chopped onion, saute until light golden brown, add the minced garlic and the turmeric powder. Stir and saute for a few more minutes.
  3. Add the ground beef, salt, and pepper to taste and brown until well done. Set aside.
  4. In a medium-size pot combine the rice and the yellow split peas, add enough water to cover the rice by an inch over the rice line. Add a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of oil, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat, cover with the top a little ajar to let the steam out, cook until the water is fully absorbed. Set aside.
  5.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the meat mixture, rice, and peas, chopped herbs, cumin, and saffron. Mix well. 
  6. In a large pan, saute the sliced onion in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent, add a tablespoon of tomato paste, saute for a couple of minutes until it's no longer raw, add salt and pepper to taste. Add 3 cups of water and bring to a gentle simmer, cook until sauce is thickened.
  7. In the meantime, place a small scoop of the mixture into the center of each cabbage leaf, fold in the bottom, sides, and the top of the leaf to complete the wrap.
  8. Arrange the stuffed cabbage with the seam down, next to one another in a large pot. Pour the tomato sauce over the dolmeh, cover, and cook on medium-low heat for an hour. In the last 10-15 minutes of cooking sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar and just a sprinkle of sugar. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
To serve place the dolmeh on a platter and serve warm with mast-o-khiar and sabzi khordan.

At the beach with family!



  1. A lovely post and a great recipe! My mother and I often made cabbage rolls. A Hungarian version, sans the spices. Yours sounds and looks delicious!

  2. Hi Azita,

    Again beautiful pix of food and family, perfect combination!

    I`m really tempted to do this recipe. I'm curious, however, how your mom cooked the dolmehs if she didn't use a tomato sauce.

    Thanks again for this great blog. Persian food rules!



    1. Sharon, thank you so much for your kind words! My mother would layer the dolmehs overs the sautéed onions in pan and would just add water to it.

    2. My mom makes fresh lemon juice mixed with sugar and pours it on the top. Great sweet and sour flavor.

  3. This is an interesting variation on a classic. I have found that if I pare the stem of the cabbage and place it whole in the microwave, stem side down, it cooks perfectly. Every microwave is different. Start with 5 minutes on high.

  4. Like you, I too think about our previous generations of mothers who painstakingly prepared meals for their family, some times neglecting even their own needs. I always try to think positive thoughts when I am cooking, as I believe that our thoughts do transcend to the food we cook.

    Thank you for the recipe and for the poetry, Azita.

    1. Vaishnavi, thank you so much! Positive thinking is good for our health!

  5. G'day! Your Persian Stuffed Cabbage look so yum, true!
    I have many fond childhood memories of these too! Thank you!
    Cheers! Joanne

  6. Love the pic of you girls at the beach. So cute!

    This is my FAVOURITE cabbage dish. And your presentation is so lovely.

    (PS-I've got a giveaway going on right now - pls enter! xo)

  7. I like the dolmeh (& yours look dee lee cious) but I LOVE the cheerful family portrait. Beautiful family!

  8. Hi Azita, I've just joined your blog and found it very interesting. I'm going to try this dish. this is my favorite but have to always wait for my mother in law to cook it for us! can you please also add Dolmeh barge mo (vine) recipe as well. thanks and good luck

  9. Hi Azita, as I know this food comes from Armanian and Gresse countries and Armenian people from Iran they makes so good and original recipe if you like it will gave you its awsoem

    1. Thank you Lida jan! Can you email me your recipe. Thanks.

  10. I made this with no meat and still turned out very good. I give it 5 stars.

  11. This looks delicious and I want to try it. Can you give us the proportions for the chopped herbs. Do you use an equal amount of everything?

    1. Kris, Mix equal parts of chopped parsley, chives, cilantro and dill and use 2 tablespoons of each chopped mint, basil and tarragon.

  12. Can I boil the cabage leaves a day befor,or would it ruin the meal?

    1. Yes, you can blanch the cabbage leaves a day in advance and refrigerate.

  13. I'm going to make an attempt to make it this week, kind of intimidating, we'll see how it will turn out lol, thx for the post

  14. Have you ever used ground turkey vs red meat. If so, any suggestions or modifications?

  15. Just season the ground turkey well with herbs, spices, salt and pepper.