Yalanji | Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables | 2 Ways
5 from 1 vote
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Arab, and Vegan? is a column by Waseem Hijazi that covers a range of topics that dive into the vegan Arab cuisine. It explores naturally-vegan Arabic recipes, and ways to veganize traditionally meat-based classics. In this installment, Waseem shares his recipe for Yalanji (Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables) – 2 Ways.

Yalanji | Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables | 2 Ways

Yalanji (Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables) – 2 Ways

This Yalanji recipe is a popular cold appetizer from the Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s famously known as the ‘vegetarian grape leaves’. But did you know they’re naturally vegan?
And the filling is used to stuff other veggies too!

Yalanji | Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables | 2 Ways

Tap on the above photo if you want to make Yalanji using grape leaves, or click here.

The Turkish word ‘Yalanci’ means ‘liar’. It’s said that the dish was named after the word in reference to the ‘fake’ meatless filling they’re stuffed with, instead of the meaty rice stuffing from the original Yaprak recipe (Yabrak in Arabic).

While it may have originated from a non-Arab country, Yalanji made its way through the neighbouring cuisines, each with their own unique take and flavour on the beloved dish. We grew up with a vine tree in our garden, and made Yalanji a lot with grape leaves. When we ran out, or it wasn’t the season, we stuffed and rolled the filling in other vegetables too. You can use them in eggplants, zucchinis, onions, cabbage, and more.

Yalanji | Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables | 2 Ways

Today I’m going to share 2 of my favourite ways to make use of the delicious tangy Yalanji filling:

KOUSA AND MALFOUF (ZUCCHINI & CABBAGE)

For this Yalanji recipe, we use small zucchinis and cabbage leaves instead of grape leaves. They work great for stuffing with the vegetable rice filling. The zucchini pulp is cored out, leaving you with a thin layer for the most tender bite when cooked. The cabbage adds a unique sweet flavour and super soft texture to the dish as they cook in the tangy sauce.

emptied out mini zucchini

cabbage

VEGETABLE RICE FILLING

stuffed veggie ingredient overview

Yalanji is stuffed with a zesty tangy vegetable rice filling. Made of tomatoes, green onions, and parsley. Flavoured with freshly squeezed lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and salt. Sometimes I add a pinch of sumac for extra tang. All marinating together in extra virgin olive oil with the rice.

rice and veggie stuffing in a food processor

You can finely chop up the ingredients by hand, or use a food processor to blend everything together. Remove the blades and pour it over the rinsed, soaked, and drained rice. Combine in a bowl and cover all the rice – pushing down with the back of a spoon.

veggie stuffing

Let it chill in the fridge to soak up all the flavours. Strain out the liquids, saving it for later. Make sure to drain out as much as possible. Empty the vegetable rice filling into a separate bowl to use later.

stuffed veggie filling and sauce in two separate containers

CORING & STUFFING ZUCCHINI

mini zucchini in a colander

You’ll want to use the small white zucchini (also known as Mexican squash), not the large green ones. Try to find zucchini that’s smaller than the length of your corer blade. Cut off both ends with a knife to core out the insides.

mini zucchini - flesh being removed with a vegetable peeler

When coring, hold the zucchini with the palm facing upwards. Gently stab the top with a corer, as close to the skin as possible. Only go in a little, then remove the corer and repeat around the circle. Carefully push down deeper toward the end, and rotate both hands in opposite direction to meet the other side of the pulp. It should come out easily.

the flesh being removed from a mini zucchini

Depending on the size of your corer blade width, and how comfortable you are with coring zucchini, it may take a few tries to repeat the step until the remaining flesh is cored out. No need to go so close to the skin – there’s nothing wrong with extra veg!

After removing as much flesh/pulp as possible, use the sharp bladed side of the corer to gently scrape off the insides. Repeat the same process of rotating until the insides are nice and clean.

mini zucchini being stuffed

hand held mini stuffed zucchini

It’s important that the filling is almost completely strained out of the liquids before stuffing. Sprinkle the rice filling into the zucchini, without overstuffing it. Tap the bottom to fill in the gaps. Leave some space at the top to allow the rice to expand when cooked.

stuffed mini zucchini

BLANCHING & ROLLING CABBAGE

The light green cabbage (aka white cabbage) works best in this recipe. Make sure to use the soft almost-white cabbage, instead of the dark and leafy crinkly green ones. Cut off the core using a knife, going in at a slight angle to help pop out.

a white/green cabbage head

Carefully drop it into a pot of boiling water. Use silicon tongs to handle. Separate the leaves as they will quickly start to soften.

cabbage being steamed to soften

Once the leaves are cool enough to handle, smash the bottom of the small ones with a dough roller to flatten the stem. If the leaf is too large, cut out the stem instead (save it for the pot), then cut the leaf in half.

cabbage being cut

Spread a heaping teaspoon’s worth of the rice filling to the bottom centre of each leaf. Fold over the bottom, tuck in the sides, then roll it up.

cabbage with filling being rolled up

cabbage with filling being rolled up

Note: Make sure to roll tightly, but without applying too much pressure/squeezing the filling. The rice needs to be a little loose so that it can expand when cooked.

stuffed thin cabbage rolls

LAYERING & COOKING

Into a large pot, place the tomato slices at the bottom, packing them tightly. Add a layer of the potato slices, with wedges of garlic cloves in between.

layered veggie slices (including potato) in a pot

Add the stuffed zucchini, facing in opposite direction to avoid gaps in between. Pack the cabbage rolls tightly around the zucchinis, with more garlic cloves.

stuffed veggies before they're baked

Push down using a flat heat-proof plate to hold everything in place. Add the drained lemon sauce from before, with more water to cover the vegetables. Bring to boil then cook on low until most liquid is absorbed/evaporated, and the vegetables are soft and tender.

Yalanji | Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables | 2 Ways

HOW TO SERVE YALANJI

After draining any remaining liquids from the pot, add a drizzle of lemon juice over the top to soak up and bring out the flavours. Place a large serving plate on top (upside down). While holding the handles, quickly and carefully lift the pot high enough to flip inwards, as you lower down to the counter.

Cool down to room temperature in a serving plate (the one used to flip the pot). Either cover in food wrap to chill in fridge (to keep its shape/presentation), or store in air-tight containers, storing the saved sauce to drizzle on top later.

Yalanji | Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables | 2 Ways

To fancy it up a bit, stack a couple of cabbage rolls and a zucchini in a lettuce leaf/romaine, with a potato and tomato slice, and a small lemon wedge. This is fun to prep ahead of potlucks/food parties, so it’s easier to share a fair serving 😉

NOW LET’S COOK:

Yalanji | Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables | 2 Ways

Yalanji (Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables) - 2 Ways

5 from 1 vote
Try this vegan Middle Eastern appetizer, Yalanji, which features stuffed vegetables like zucchini and cabbage with a zesty tangy vegetable rice filling. Learn two different ways to make this traditional dish and enjoy its unique flavors and textures.
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Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Author: Waseem Hijazi
Servings: 6 -8 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 small zucchini aka Mexican squash
  • 1/2 small head of white cabbage about 25 leaves
  • 2 large tomatoes 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 large potatoes 1/4 inch slices
  • 6 garlic cloves peeled

Yalanji Filling

  • • 2 cups short grain rice Egyptian or Jasmine, rinsed and soaked • 2 large tomatoes
  • • 3 stalks of green onions
  • • 1 bunch curly parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried mint
  • 2 lemons juiced
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp salt - adjust to taste
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sumac optional

Instructions

Preparing The Filling

  • Rinse the rice thoroughly under cold water until it runs clear. Soak for 30 minutes. Drain then empty into a bowl.
  • Use a food processor (if available) to blend together the remaining ingredients into a sauce/ salsa. Or finely chop the tomatoes, green onions, and parsley; whisking everything together in a bowl.
  • Combine both rice and sauce in a large bowl. Make sure to cover all the rice, pushing it down under the sauce with the back of a spoon. Soak for 30 minutes.
  • Drain by sitting in a strainer in a bowl until most liquid is pressed out, saving it for later. Empty the rice mixture into a separate bowl.

Coring And Stuffing Zucchini

  • Wash and pat dry each zucchini with a clean cloth. Cut off the top and bottom using a knife, only removing the inedible parts.
  • Measure the length of the corer blade next to the zucchini using your thumb to know how far to go in when coring.
  • Hold the zucchini with the palm facing upwards. With your dominant hand, gently stab the top, as close to the skin as possible. Only go in a little, then remove the corer and repeat around the circle. Carefully push down deeper toward the end, and rotate both hands in opposite direction to meet the other side of the pulp. It should come out easily.
  • Scrape off using the side of the corer blade to clean the insides of the zucchini, removing extra pulp along the way. Repeat for all zucchini.
  • Sprinkle the rice filling into the zucchini, without overstuffing it. Tap the bottom to fill in the gaps. Leave some space at the top to allow the rice to expand when cooked.

Blanching And Rolling Cabbage Leaves

  • Wash the cabbage head to remove any dirt. Cut off the core using a knife, going in at a slight angle to help pop out.
  • Carefully drop it into a pot of boiling water. Use silicon tongs to handle. Separate the leaves as they will quickly start to soften.
  • Pull them out one at a time, blanching for an additional minute before removing into a plate to cool down. Stick a fork in the centre of the core to help hold the cabbage in place.
  • Once the leaves are cool enough to handle, smash the bottom of the small ones with a dough roller to flatten the stem. If the leaf is too large, cut out the stem instead (save it for the pot), then cut the leaf in half.
  • Spread a heaping teaspoon’s worth of the rice filling to the bottom centre of each leaf. Fold over the bottom, tuck in the sides, then roll it up.

Layering And Cooking

  • Place the tomato slices at the bottom of a large pot, packing them tightly. Add a layer of the potato slices, with wedges of garlic cloves in between.
  • Add the stuffed zucchini, facing in opposite direction to avoid gaps in between. Pack the cabbage rolls tightly around the zucchinis, with more garlic cloves. Try to load the pot into even layers, so everything would stay in place when cooking. Stuff extra potato slices if there’s empty space.
  • Using a flat heat-proof plate, push down the vegetables in the pot to hold everything together. Pour over the saved sauce from before. Add more water to cover the top of the vegetables by about 1 inch.
  • Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low. Add a small heat-proof bowl - filled with water - on top of the plate to act as heavy weight. Cover with a lid.
  • Cooking time will vary based on the size of the stuffed vegetables, and how much is in the pot. Start with an hour, check to see if they’re fork-tender. Continue for an additional 30 minutes at a time, until the vegetables are super soft and the filling melts in the mouth.
  • Most liquid will be absorbed/evaporated. Drain out any excess sauce into a bowl to cool down and drizzle when serving. Add some lemon juice on top and allow to soak up.
  • Place a large serving plate on top (upside down). While holding the handles, quickly and carefully lift the pot high enough to flip inwards, as you lower down to the counter.
  • Allow to cool down completely. Chill in the fridge in air-tight containers. Serve cold with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice.

Notes

  1. If you want to make Yalanji using grape leaves, find the recipe instructions here.
  2. It’s important that the filling is almost completely strained out of the liquids before stuffing.
  3. Zucchini corer: make sure the blade on the corer is larger than the length of the zucchini you’re using.
  4. Save the zucchini pulp to use in other dishes. You can turn it into a hearty zucchini dip (called Lib el Kousa). Or sneak it into your favourite baked goods (banana bread, muffins, brownies).
  5. Stuffing zucchini: Make sure to leave some space at the top to allow the rice to expand when cooked.
  6. Large cabbage leaves: If the cabbage leaves are a bit too large, cut out the stem (instead of smashing to flatten down). Save it to add to the bottom of the pot later. Then continue cutting the leaf in half before stuffing.
  7. Stuffing cabbage: Make sure to pack the filling tightly when rolling, but without applying too much pressure. The rice needs to be a little loose so that it can expand when cooked.
  8. The dish is supposed to be naturally vegan by default. Some people/restaurants might use broth (vegetable or poultry) to strengthen the flavours. If ordering, make sure to confirm.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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Yalanji | Vegan Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables | 2 Ways

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If you enjoyed this recipe, you might also like this Manakeesh (Arabic Flatbread) by the same author. Click here for the recipe.

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Waseem hijazi

 

 

Connect with Waseem on Instagram and find more recipes at PlantBasedArab.com.

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