Niño Envuelto (Rice and Beef Cabbage Rolls) is a juicy mixture of minced beef and rice wrapped in cabbage, with roots in Middle Eastern Cuisine.
We Dominicans love Niños Envueltos (Rice and Beef Cabbage Rolls), but it's likely that not many of us are familiar with the convoluted origin of this popular dish.
As with many dishes worldwide, many countries claim they created it. Let's see if we can "untangle this tripe [*]" a bit.
What is Niño Envuelto?
It depends. In a few countries, like Mexico, for example, it's a sweet roll, the same type Dominicans call Brazo Gitano. In others is just about any type of rolls, including the savory rolled "sandwiches" Dominicans call Rollitos.
In the Dominican Republic, Niño Envuelto is a rice and beef mixture, wrapped in cabbage, and cooked in plenty of tomato sauce. Loosely translated from Spanish the name means "swaddled baby".
So where did cabbage rolls come from?
As well as the linguistic confusion that seems to be an intrinsic part of Hispanic cuisine, here we have the historical disputes to top the cake.
Cabbage rolls filled with meat are claimed as a national dish by several different countries and regions in the world.
Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon (and several other neighboring countries) all claim malfouf mahshi (cabbage rolls) for themselves. Each of these recipes varies in some way or another. The Egyptian version is apparently served with tomato sauce, although it's almost certain that there are many ways of making this dish, even within these countries.
To make things more interesting --and/or confusing-- very similar dishes exist in Europe, the best known of which is probably the Polish Gołąbki.
About our Niño Envuelto recipe
I hope all of the above has disabused us of the notion that there is ONE way to make this dish. The people who brought it here couldn't agree on one recipe themselves. So bear in mind that, even if you are a descendant of Middle Eastern immigrants and this recipe is part of your traditional family repertoire, it will differ from the tradition of other families with a similar background.
This is the easiest, quickest way to make Niño Envueltos that I've found, and I love them, but if you have your own family recipe or secret, we'll love to hear it.
Niño Envuelto Recipe (Rice & Beef Wrapped in Cabbage)
- 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)
- 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.
- Remove from the water, discard water and set aside the leaves.
For the filling.
- Pulse garlic, basil, bell pepper, onion, 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper in the food processor until you obtain a coarse paste.
- Scoop this paste onto the ground beef and mix well.
- 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.).
- Mix the rice with the meat and remove from the heat. Cool to room temperature and set aside.
Prepare the sauce for serving
- Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over low heat.
- Add the tomatoes and garlic.
- 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.
How to make the cabbage rolls
- Preheat oven to 400 ºF [200 ºC]
- 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.
- Place the pockets in a baking pan and cover with the sauce. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove the toothpicks, if you used any, and serve immediately.
Notes and Tips
"Desenredar esa tripa": Dominican idiomatic expression meaning to untangle a mystery or complex idea.