In 2022, Greek-Australian chef Ella Mittas self-published her debut cookbook, Ela! Ela!, a culmination of her travels through Greece and Turkey, and a tribute to her hometown of Melbourne. Her essays, recipes and photography evoked the sun-spangled summers of south-east Europe, as well as the very specific Greek-Melburnian experience of her upbringing.

“I think it’s a very common experience to be looking for culture outside of your family,” Mittas told Broadsheet recently. “I was constantly going to Greece to look for this identity that I thought would be in Greece … but I realised that it’s in Melbourne. That’s what the book is about: me going overseas and being like, ‘There must be a place where there’s more culture than what we have in Australia,’ and realising I was imagining a fantasy culture somewhere else.”

Mittas published 1500 copies of Ela! Ela! – and it sold out. (She even shared a recipe for zucchini fritters with Broadsheet.) Now, it’s been picked up by Murdoch Books and a second edition has been published with a few more recipes and a gorgeous woodcut image by Mittas on the cover. Here, she shares with us a recipe for cabbage rolls – and they hit hard, whether they’re part of a big spread or eaten by themselves.

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“I make these cabbage rolls with the same meat sauce that I use for moussaka; just halve the volume of the recipe I’ve provided,” Mittas writes. “The sauce freezes really well so I would recommend making one-and-a-half times the recipe and keeping half to make cabbage rolls later. These are better in the days after they’ve been made. If you have leftover cabbage leaves and rice mix, you can saute the cabbage in a little oil, add the rice mix and make a pilaf.”

Ella Mittas’s cabbage rolls

Serves 6
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2.5 hours

Ingredients

1 cabbage
Garlic yoghurt, to serve

Meat sauce

1 brown onion, diced
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
350g lamb mince
2 tbsp tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
1 400g can diced tomatoes
1 quill cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1 orange, zested

Filling

2 cups arborio rice
1 cup finely chopped mixed herbs: mint, parsley and dill
½ cup currants
Flaked salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1L chicken stock
2 lemons, juiced
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method

To make the meat sauce, start by sauteing the onion in the olive oil in a saucepan for around 15 minutes, until golden, then add in the garlic and saute until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir in the mince, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and saute. Once it’s all browned add the tomato paste and fry off for around a minute.

Pour in the red wine to deglaze, and cook out until evaporated. Add the tinned tomatoes, cinnamon, bay leaves and orange zest. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Cook out until most of the liquid has evaporated, around 30 minutes.

To cook the cabbage, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut out the core of your cabbage and place the rest in the boiling water. As your leaves become tender they should fall away from your cabbage. You want them to be cooked enough that they can be rolled without snapping. Take the leaves out of the water as they become tender and place to one side to cool.

Mix your rice, fresh herbs and currants into your meat mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Take the cabbage leaves and sort them according to size. Big leaves will need to be cut in half; it’s best if the vein of the leaf is removed as it’s so thick it tends to take a long time to cook. Use any leftover bits of cabbage to line a saucepan that is deep enough to fit all your rolls in.

Take each leaf and spread flat. Place a heaped tablespoon of the rice mix down the end of the leaf closest to you, fold in the sides of the leaves and roll the cabbage up.

Place the rolls in the pan, seam-side down. Repeat the rolling process with the remaining cabbage, making sure all the rolls fit snugly together in the pan. If there are gaps around the rolls, fill them with extra leaves to prevent the rolls from opening while they are cooking.

Once all the mix is finished, weigh down your cabbage rolls with an upside-down plate.

Mix your stock with lemon juice, olive oil and salt, check for seasoning and then pour over the rolls. The liquid should come up just over the plate; top it up with water if it doesn’t. Put the pan on the stove over a medium flame.

Bring the liquid up to a boil, then turn the heat down so they are cooking on a simmer. They should take around 40 minutes to 1 hour. They should be very tender, the rice totally cooked through. Once they’re cooked, leave them to completely cool in the pot; this will help them keep their shape. Serve warm or at room temperature with garlic yoghurt.

This is an edited extract of Ela! Ela! by Ella Mittas, out now through Murdoch Books.

Additional reporting by Grace MacKenzie.