STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES
Growing up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, I have fond memories of sharing meals with Italian, Syrian, Lebanese, Irish, French Canadian and Polish families. We lived in a duplex, where my Polish grandmother, aunt and cousin lived on the first floor, we lived on the second and Grace and Jim on the third. Jim was Irish and Gracie, as we fondly called her, was Armenian. Every once in a while Gracie would present us with a heaping plate of deep green, cigar shaped stuffed grape leaves. I loved the tangy grape leaves and the savory filling of ground lamb, rice and the occasional crunch of pine nuts. It was my introduction to spices and herbs like cinnamon, allspice, dill, mint and parsley combined in a savory dish. It opened my culinary eyes, stimulated my taste buds and was the beginning of an endless curiousity about world spices and herbs.
Stuffed grape leaves are prominent in Arabic and Middle Eastern cuisine and go by many names. You are most likely familiar with Greek Dolmades found on the platter when you order mezze in your favorite Middle Eastern restaurant. Mezze is that wonderful sampling of appetizers such as baba ganouj, hummus, cheeses, borek, olives, tabbouleh and of course stuffed grape leaves to mention just a few. I have to tell you, I was enjoying (and making) hummus long before it came into vogue as a health food and what I grew up with is nothing like the commercial offerings in today’s supermarket. But that’s another story and another family friend. In the meantime, here’s our recipe for stuffed grape leaves in which mint, parsley, cilantro and cinnamon complement ground lamb.
Have fun making these stuffed grape leaves. If you’ve never worked with grape leaves, be patient and handle them gently because they tear easily. Otherwise it’s easy. I serve them with this tangy yogurt sauce, warm pita bread and still think of Gracie.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
2 cups plain yogurt
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
Salt and coarsely ground white pepper
2 cups salted water
2 cups long grain rice, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless leg of lamb, cut into small cubes (about 1/3-inch)
1 onion finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
14 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
To Assemble the Dish
*Grape leaves, fresh or from jar
2 cups chicken stock
Salt to taste
Make the sauce
1. In a medium bowl, mix garlic and yogurt.
2. Salt and coarsely ground white pepper to taste.
3. Refrigerate until serving.
Make the the filling
1. Bring salted water to boil and stir in rice. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed and rice is cooked. Remove pot from heat, uncover and allow rice to cool.
2. In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add lamb and cook until browned. Toss in onions and cook until onions are transulent.
4. Throw in herbs, and cinnamon.
5. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Using wooden spoon, add cooked rice to meat nixture. Gently stir until evenly blended.
Stuffing & Rolling the Grape Leaves
This is easy and fun. Just handle the grape leaves very gently. They will tear easily.
* If using fresh grapes leaves: Wash in cold water, then put them in boiling water for about 3-4 minutes. Remove the leaves and cool so that you can handle them. Boiling for a while makes them more plyable and eaiser to work with. Cut away the stalks and press drown the largest veins.
Leaves in a jar are usually tightly rolled and jam packed. Be careful when you remove them from the jar and handle them gently. Loosen leaves and wash in cold water.
1. Lay a whole leaf, shiny side down on a clean, flat surface.
2. Evenly spread about 2 tablespoons of filling onto wide end of leaf.
3. Fold bottom sections of leaf over filling.
1. Keep a finger on the the middle of the first fold so that it doesn’t come apart. Gently fold the left section of the leaf toward the center.
2. Keep a gentle pressure on the already folded portions and fold the right section of the leaf toward the center.
3. Gently, but firmly roll up towards the top of the leaf.
1. The completed roll should be firm but not tight.
2. Continue rolling until you have used all of the filling.
3. Line the bottom and sides of an oven proof pan with left over leaves and any torn pieces of grape leaves. They will keep the rolls from sticking to the bottom of the pan and help to keep them arranged.
4. Snugly arrange rolls seam side down in cooking pan. Do not overcrowd.
5. Pour enough chicken stock into the pan, so that the stock covers half the height of the rolls.
6. Carefully bring to boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.