Stuffed grape leaves, oh yes, please! Dozens of those plump, glistening little rolls covered the counters, piled high on a platter and spilled over onto the tabletop as I played with several recipe variations. This renewed interest in filled grape leaves began with Faith Gorsky's terrific new cookbook, An Edible Mosaic, a treasury of her Syrian family-inspired recipes. Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves was the first recipe she selected for her cookbook: that fact alone makes them special.
My Secret Recipe Club blog assignment this month was Sid's Sea Palm Cooking. Each month it's a new blog to explore, new recipes to investigate, and I happily browsed through Sid's ample archives. I checked out some tempting sweets (including a two-part post on making your own puff pastry!), dozens of Danish specialties, a host of Mexican-inspired dishes, and then... listed under Cooking with Friends... I found it! Sid's Sea Palm recipe for Syrian-style Stuffed Grape Leaves. I knew this had to be my focus for March. Sid, I'll come back later to see what's cooking on your monthly Tapas Nights and Boat Club Potluck posts.
I prepared two filling variations, one vegetarian and and the other meaty with a ground lamb sausage. After gathering the ingredients and spices noted in Faith's and Sids recipes, I skimmed Joanne Weir's From Tapas to Meze for a little more flavor research. In the end I selected a blend of seasonings we love and that were available in my galley. Soon I was busy mixing and rolling, having fun and up to my elbows in stuffed grape leaves and rice filling.
Forming the rolls was easy enough; it's similar to wrapping up a burrito or a Spring roll. Add a dab of filling to the bottom third of a grape leaf just above the stem and shape the mixture into a cylinder; fold in each side and roll up firmly (but not too firmly or they'll burst as the rice expands) toward the top point. Stack the rolled leaves seam side down in layers in a heavy-bottomed pot. Weight down the top with a heavy plate or lid to keep the rolls firmly in place or they will float and unwrap. Cover with water, add a drizzle of oil and some lemon juice and simmer slowly until the rice is cooked.
The rice-only vegetarian grape leaves were a treat, served cold as an appetizer, accompanied with a bowl of tzatziki and a few lemon wedges. We enjoyed the meat-stuffed grape leaves at dinner, served warm with grilled lamb sausages, lemony roasted potatoes, Fattoush, and a bit of Wild Rice Salad.
This recipe for meat-filled rolls makes three dozen stuffed grape leaves, enough to feed a crowd.
Syrian Stuffed Grape Leaves
Inspired by a recipe from Sid's Sea Palm Cooking
makes roughly 2 1/2 to 3 dozen
makes roughly 2 1/2 to 3 dozen
3/4 cup raw medium-grain rice
2 Tbs oil
½ large yellow onion (or 1 bunch scallions) in small dice
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp turmeric
salt and black pepper to taste (optional)
½ pound ground meat (from 2 links raw of lamb/pork sausage) optional
a generous Tablespoon of dried mint leaves
¼ cup dried currants, soaked in white wine
¼ cup pine nuts
1 Tbs rinsed capers
2 Tbs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tbs fresh mint, chopped
1 8-oz jar of grape leaves, rinsed well
¼ cup lemon juice
Yogurt or tzatziki and lemon wedges (optional, for serving)
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the spices, cinnamon through turmeric and a generous pinch of salt and pepper and cook until fragrant. Cool completely.
- Add the onion mixture and crumbled ground meat to a bowl with the rice. Toss in the next 6 ingredients, dried mint through fresh mint and combine everything thoroughly. Add more salt and pepper to the mix (optional).
- To prepare the jarred grape leaves, soak them in a pot of gently boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and transfer to a pot of chilled water. Do this at least once to remove the excel salt and processing chemicals from the leaves. Drain, pat dry and trim off any extra-long stems if needed.
- Lay a leaf out flat, shiny side down and ribbed vein side up, and place approximately one tablespoon of filling at the base of the stem. (Adjust the quantity of filling to the size of the grape leaf.) Shape the filling into a cylinder and proceed to fold and roll as you would a burrito or a spring roll: fold the bottom up over the filling, fold the sides in to cover, and roll up the leaf, tucking the edges in as you go. Roll into tight rolls, but not too tight or they will burst as the rice expands during cooking. Repeat with the remaining filling and leaves.
- Arrange layers of stuffed leaves packed close together, seam-sides down, in a medium-large, heavy-bottomed lidded pot. Place a heavy heat-proof plate on top of the leaves to hold them down while they cook. Add water to cover by about 2 inches; add 1/4 cup lemon juice and a splash of oil. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer at a low bubble for an hour, or until the rice is cooked through. Let the pot sit awhile, off the heat, for the rice to absorb more liquid.
- To serve, drain the stuffed leaves in a colander, *but you might save the liquid in a bowl underneath. Accompany with plain Greek yogurt or tzatziki and some lemon wedges.
- Store any leftover stuffed grape leaves in the refrigerator. *One source recommends storing them in the reserved cooking liquid to keep the rice moist.