Jon: Lebanese cabbage rolls


My son Jon was born smiling. He seldom cried; he slept through the night and loved his big sister from the start. As a rambunctious three year old, he delighted in storming in to Ed and Sophie’s house see Sithee, his Lebanese grandmother, jumping on her lap, pinching her cheeks before she could get to his. “Ya Dinny!”, she would cry, followed closely by, “Isn’t it time for him to take a nap?”

Every Tuesday, Jon and I baked Syrian bread with Pop and Sithee in their basement. Pop was ready when we got there, so down the stairs we would go. Sithee descending cautiously, Pop close behind with a metal bowl full of dough, Jon hopping step to step, barely able to contain his excitement, and me following with a stack of towels, a tablecloth, and Jon’s tricycle. 

I smoothed a tablecloth over the white enamel-top table, Pop set the bowl down, put a Syrian record on the turntable, and lit the old porcelain double oven. Sithee scooched up her chair, pinched a knob of dough out of the bowl, smoothed it into a round on her lap, and slapped the round back and forth between her hands and forearms forming a large, oval-shaped, loaf. Pop shimmied the loaf on to the edge of a thin, handmade baker’s peel and slid it off onto the oven floor. I stacked the loaves on kitchen towels as they came out of the oven, and tried, but always failed, to make a useable loaf. Jon rode his tricycle round and around the basement, careening between hanging laundry, the water heater, and a chest freezer, missing Sithee in her chair most of the time. “Yallah! Isn’t it time for him to take a nap?”

Jon comes to Seattle a couple times a year on business and on this trip, we had a bed and a spare room waiting for him. For dinner, I made a test run of our winter party menu (a “good-to-go” from everyone), we watched a little Japanese TV, caught up on family news, and went to bed. The next day, Bob and Jon polished off the privacy screen project with only three trips to the hardware store, leaving plenty of time for a walk in the woods, a few coffees, and lots of chatting. Jon took us out to dinner that night at Mediterranean Breeze, a Turkish restaurant in West Olympia, drove to his hotel, made his business rounds the next day, and flew back home to his girls. He is a kind, generous man, and always a delight to be with.

Shepherd’s salad

Turkish pide, the best bread, ever. 

Cabbage rolls (recipe from the 1960 edition of The Daughter’s of the Ladies of St. George Cookbook)

  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Lamb bones or leftover cabbage stems
  • 1/2 cup Uncle Ben’s Rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb or beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper

Cut out the thick core from center of a cabbage head. Drop head into salted boiling water, cored end down. Boil a few minutes until leaves have softened. While boiling, loosen each leaf with a long fork, remove each leaf and place in a dish to cool.

Lay each leaf flat on cutting board, with stem facing up. With small, sharp knife, slice down to remove most of the thick stem allowing leaf to be stuffed.

Fill each leaf with 1-2 tablespoons stuffing and roll in the shape of a cigar.

Place lamb bones or cabbage stems on bottom of heavy-bottom pan. Arrange cabbage rolls on top of bones or stems, alternating in opposite direction.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, a sprinkle of salt, and sliced garlic.

Press down with inverted plate or dish. Add water to reach dish.

Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 25 minutes.  

Add lemon juice, cook 10 minutes more.

Serve with plain yogurt.

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3 Responses to Jon: Lebanese cabbage rolls

  1. Marilyn says:

    Wow, Marla, perfect timing. We just had a wonderful meze dinner in Paris, and my favorite meze were the cabbage rolls. The owner said they are the Lebanese version of stuffed grape leaves, but in my impression much better. The cabbage just melts into the filling.

  2. Ginny says:

    Jon-best hand stand ever!

  3. Patty Curtis says:

    Okay…thought I had posted but not seeing it…so here goes again..great you had another sweet visit with your son. Looks like you all had a lovely feast…filled in with loads of memories…and glad to see Jon helped Sweetie with the little project that looks great.
    Missing you both, hugs, love P and J

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