Niño Envuelto (Rice & Beef Wrapped in Cabbage)

Niño envuelto (Rice cake wrapped in cabbage leaf)

School is about to start, and children everywhere are going to be asked to speak or write about what they did on their holidays. Why should I be any exception?

The difference is that I’m not going to go on at length about what I did, but what I learned.

olive oil

I spent the first couple of weeks of July in Italy. Aside from negotiating the minefield of gastronomical etiquette which leaves many a foreigner in a state of befuddled inadequacy (antipasti, primo piatto, sigundo piatto…) I was lucky enough to stay with friends, one of whom turned out to be an Italian chef.

As well as working in his own restaurant, the chef would make the family midday meal at home most days. I observed and took copious mental notes.

Another tip from my sister (who is neither Italian nor a chef) is that ground black pepper added when cooking can go bitter, at least in tomato sauce and other tomato-based dishes like gazpacho. For this reason it is best to leave it up to each person to add pepper to taste.

Niño envuelto (Rice cake wrapped in cabbage leaf)

Home-made tomato sauce: My method was always to make a ‘sofrito’ type base of onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil, and then to add the skinned tomatoes, herbs and seasoning. The chef’s method was easier, healthier and much tastier. He simply blended skinned tomatoes and garlic, and cooked them for however long it takes, and once it was ready, poured in some olive oil. In this way you get the benefits of raw olive oil, which loses its nutritional properties if you cook it. Then you add salt and fresh/dried herbs like basil or oregano. It is always good to add some sugar or tomato ketchup to the sauce to offset the acidity of the tomatoes, by the way.

The tomato sauce we used for this dish is my own version.

This is a dish that, like kipes, tipili and arroz con fideos, is a Dominican adaptation of Middle Eastern dishes brought over by immigrants from the area in the 19th century. This is the Dominican version of the Egyptian malfouf mahshi.

Aunt Ilana
Niño Envuelto Dominican Rice & Beef Cake Wrapped in Cabbage.
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Niño Envuelto, means "wrapped baby" translated word for word, and is a very delicious Dominican Rice & Beef Cake Wrapped in Cabbage with roots in the Middle Eastern Cuisine.
Serves: 6 servings
  • 1 large cabbage (pick one with thin outer layers)
For the filling
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 8 basil leaves
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 lb [0.45 kg] of minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of water
  • ½ cup of tomato sauce
  • 3 cups of cooked white rice
For the tomato sauce for serving
  • 6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 cups of tomatoes, peeled and seeded
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon of oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon of pepper (or to taste)
  1. Separate the outermost leaves of the cabbage. Try not to break them. Soak in boiling-hot water cooking over low heat until they are tender but firm. Soak in ice cold water until it cools to room temperature.
  2. Remove from the water, discard water and set aside the leaves.
For the filling.
  1. Pulse garlic, basil, bell pepper, onion, 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper in the food processor until you obtain a coarse paste.
  2. Scoop this paste onto the ground beef and mix well.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the ground beef and brown. Add water and the tomato sauce. Simmer covered until the meat is cooked through and the juices have evaporated (about 15 mins.).
  4. Mix the rice with the meat and remove from the heat. Cool to room temperature and set aside.
Prepare the sauce for serving
  1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over low heat.
  2. Add the tomatoes and garlic.
  3. Cover and simmer until the tomatoes are cooked through, mash them with a potato masher. Add a teaspoon of oregano, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
To assemble
  1. Preheat oven to 400 ºF [200 ºC]
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of the rice and beef mixture in the center of one of the leaves. Wrap tightly (using more leaves if necessary) securing the bundle with a toothpick if necessary.
  3. Place the pockets in a baking pan and cover with the sauce. Bake for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the toothpicks, if you used any, and serve immediately.
I have to say that I'm not very fond of making this dish, working with the cabbage leaves is kind of messy, so I don't have any advice on how to do it, just wing it.
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{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Katy Perez November 15, 2013, 7:17 PM

    My grandma Ramona used to make these often when I was growing up in Moca, El Cibao, DR. Brings back memories. I’m making it as I type :)

  • Renata August 20, 2012, 1:50 AM

    We have almost the same traditional dish in poland! And it’s called – gołąbki – pigeons :)

    • Aunt Clara August 20, 2012, 8:54 AM

      Wow. That is interesting. Amazing how different people can come up with the same dish. Apparently there is also a Jewish dish similar to this, as well as one from Sweden.

  • Ana August 19, 2012, 1:37 PM

    Can I make this with brown rice?I don’t like white rice

    • Aunt Clara August 19, 2012, 1:47 PM

      You sure can. It’s not the traditional way, but it can be done.

  • Aunt_Clara May 24, 2012, 9:18 PM

    Thank you, thank you. I had a strong suspicion that this dish had Middle Eastern origins, like so many in our cuisine (read this:… but wasn't sure about that. I finally got my answer.

  • JezebelMoon February 16, 2012, 11:08 PM

    Hola come estan todos!!!

    I just want to say that I make this recipe on a weekly basis. Reason being is that my family is mixed Egyptian-Dominican and both have this as part of the gastronomy. The same recipe, same preparation same technique, just different names and different countries. In Egypt we call is mahshi y en Dominicana le decimos nino envuelto. Me da mucha inreiga de como llego esta receta a Dominicana. Super deliciosa, Bendiciones.

  • Chris Pena July 8, 2011, 6:53 PM

    My mom made the best Niño envuelto, I am going to try your recipe and see how I do. Thanks so much