Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Grape Leaves

This is my absolute favorite middle eastern dish. It is claimed by cultures throughout the Mediterranean, but each country flavors them a little bit differently. My version is closest to the Egyptian style with some minor changes. My aunt used to make this for me when ever I visited her, and it was always a treat. The great thing about this dish is that it is a complete meal. The leaves are an excellent source of fiber and vitamins, while the stuffing contains meat and rice to make it into a nutritionally balanced food. The leaves reheat fine in the microwave and they can be eaten cold. This makes the leftovers a great workday lunch.

Most people make this dish with store bought grape leaves in a jar, which works fine because the leaves are well preserved in a brine. However, in the summer you can make these with fresh grape leaves. In making this dish I used wild grape leaves that grow in my back yard. These leaves grow wild throughout New England and other parts of the country. You should select leaves that are not too thick. For some of the leaves I used my home grown Concord grape leaves, which also work fine. This dish is quite easy to make, though most people are intimidated by the rolling of the leaves. For this reason I have broken it down to very simple steps with lots of pictures. You should be able to make this dish start to finish in less than two hours, including cooking time. If you follow my illustrated steps for rolling the leaves you will have no trouble, in fact the rolling won't take longer than 15 minutes. A great complement to this dish is Lizabetti's Yogurt Cucumber Dip.


  • A large bowl of fresh picked grape leaves, about 50-100 leaves depending on size and quality. You can substitute 1 jar of store bought grape leaves.
  • 1/4 cup Lizabetti's Mediterranean dry rub
  • 1 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 4 tbs chopped garlic
  • 1 lb ground lamb, substitute beef if desired, or omit for a vegetarian version
  • 3 cups jasmine rice
  • 1 12 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 quart of tomato juice
  • 1 cup beef, lamb, or chicken stock. Omit for a vegetarian version
  • 2 large juicy limes
  • Fresh herbs to taste. I used parsley and chives because they were in season and growing in my herb patch.

Directions: Prep The Leaves

  1. Pick the largest leaves on the vine, large leave are easier to roll. If you don't find wild leaves in your own yard, you can find them throughout the countryside in New England.
  2. Rinse the leaves, salt and soak in cold water. This helps get rid of any outdoor grub. Leave them soaking for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Dump the water and rinse off the salt. The leaves are now ready for rolling.
  4. If you are using store bought leaves, simply rinse them to get rid of the brine.

Make The Stuffing
  1. Mix the dry rub and half the garlic into the ground meat. If making vegetarian mix the dry rub right into the rice.
  2. Pre-heat a pan and brown the meat. If you are using lamb or a fatty beef, there is no need for oil. You do not need to completely cook the meat in this step as it will be cooked further in the grape leaves. Many people use the meat without browning, but I think that it enhances the flavor especially when using lamb.
  3. After the meat is browned, mix in the pine nuts. Drain any excess grease.
  4. Place the meat in a mixing bow and mix in the rice and the rest of the garlic. Be sure to mix thoroughly.
  5. Add the tomato paste and mix thoroughly.

Roll 'em Up
  1. Lay some leaves down in the base of large, deep pan. This will keep your stuffed leaves from sticking.
  2. Place the leaf shiny side down on your work surface.
  3. The key to rolling is not to use too much stuffing in each leaf. Place 1 teaspoon of stuffing at the base of the leaf.
  4. Fold one side of the leaf over the stuffing, then the other
  5. roll the leaf from the bottom up. Keep it tight at all times.
  6. Arrange the leaves in a circular pattern at the bottom of the pan. As you complete each circle, begin another circle inside it until you complete the layer. Be sure to put them seam side down so they do not fall apart.
  7. Repeat this process for subsequent layers. Usually I end up making 3-4 layers with this recipe.

Sauce and Cook
  1. Mix the tomato juice, stock, and one of the limes in a bowl. Add the fresh herbs.
  2. Pour the mixture over the grape leaves.
  3. Place a plate face down over the grape leaves. this will prevent them from moving.
  4. Cover the pan. Cook over medium heat for 35-45 minutes, or until the liquid is all absorbed.
  5. Remove the plate and squeeze the second lime over the pan.
  6. Let stand covered in the pan for about 15 minutes.
  7. Serve with Lizabetti's Yogurt Cucumber dip.

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