How to Stuff Grape Leaves
Please welcome our guest, Sarah Melamed, from Food Bridge
Fresh aromatic herbs, rice, a bit of olive oil, lemon juice.
Just simple ingredients.
Yet when this mixture is rolled within grape leaves a transformation occurs. One that happens slowly as it simmers over a gentle flame, releasing scents of long Middle Eastern summers. It is a food steeped with tradition and made with love. For many it is the taste of home, wherever that may be.
The recipe changes as one travels away from the Levant and into Eastern Europe, Northern and Eastern Mediterranean and large parts of North Africa. The popularity and prevalence of this dish is attributed the Ottoman Turks who introduced their culinary style throughout the areas they controlled. Interestingly this delicacy is not considered part of traditional Moroccan cuisine since Ottoman influence reached only to the area of what is now Tunisia.
Although grape leaves cured in brine are available year round, the best time for making stuffed grape leaves is in the spring when the young leaves are still supple, without the fibrous veins of older foliage. Now it is grape rolling season in the southern hemisphere.
Eight Tips for Preparing Perfect Stuffed Grape Leaves
1. Select young grape leaves. These can be stored in the freezer for later use. If not available, buy cured grape leaves, making sure to thoroughly rinse before using. These don’t usually need to be parboiled before use.
2. Fresh leaves need to be parboiled so they become pliable and easy to work with. Young leaves need only a quick dip in boiling water for them to be manageable.
3. The filling needs to have the correct proportion of herbs to rice. Too much herbs causes the stuffed grape leaves to lose volume after they are cooked. The end result will be a wilted, half filled grape leaf. I usually use one bunch of fresh herbs for every cup of rice. If more is used, they should be sautéed before adding to the filling.
4. Lay the leaf with the shiny side down. Put a small amount of stuffing in the center of the leaf, fold the sides over and then roll until a cigar is formed. If the leaf is not perfect, it can be patched with extra pieces of leaves. Lay the rolls seam down in a lined pot.
5. Don’t overstuff the leaves if using grains such as rice or bulgur as they will expand while cooking, bursting the roll.
6. Layer the bottom of the pot with extra grape leaves, sliced tomatoes or thinly sliced carrots.
7. It is a good idea to cover the grape leaves with a heavy, heat proof plate so the rolls don’t open. I usually pour boiling water on the leaves and cook on low heat from the beginning, avoiding vigorous boiling which can dislodge the leaves.
8. It is best to make stuffed grape leaves with a group of family or friends, the way it was meant to be done.
Kurdish Style Stuffed Grape Leaves
2 cups round rice such as Arborio rice, washed
3 green onions or 1 yellow onion, grated
Large bunch of dill, about 1 ½ cups
1 minced tomato, about 1 cup
2 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
4 tbs olive oil
75-100 fresh grape leaves boiled in water until they change color. If the leaves are old and fibrous boil them for 3-4 minutes to soften. If you use pickled leaves, soak them in copious amounts of water to remove the excess salt.
Juice of two lemons, about ½ cup
4 tbs olive oil
Water to cover the grape leaves
For lining the pot you need sliced carrots, tomatoes or extra grape leaves. If using a low-sided pot (24 cm) this recipe is enough for two layers.
Combine all of the ingredients for the filling. The ratio between the uncooked rice and herbs should be about 1:1. Put a teaspoon of filling on the grape leaf close to where the stem was attached and roll. Arrange the grape leaves in the carrot lined pot, seam facing down. The leaves should fit snugly together to prevent them from floating when covered with sauce. Pour the lemon juice and olive oil over the leaves and add just enough water to cover the leaves. Use a plate to keep the leaves in place, boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for another 30 to 40minutes, let stand 1 to 2 hours covered. They taste better the following day when the flavors have a chance to mellow. Serve on a bed of labneh with toasted pinenuts.