Stuffed grape leaves are known all over the Mediterranean, where they are mostly stuffed with rice and herbs, and in the Middle East, where a meat filling is more common.
The recipe I have here has both Greek and Turkish influences, as it comes from my maternal grandmother, whose origins were in the Jewish community of Turkish Izmir, formerly known as Smyrna, when it was a Greek city.
If you’ve only tried stuffed grape leaves from a can, with tasteless mushy rice filling, you’ve probably wondered why they are considered such a delicacy in so many places. However, once you’ll try the homemade version, I’m sure you’ll change your mind very quickly.
No doubt this is not the quickest dish to make, but it’s definitely worth the effort. The small bundles have so much flavor: the leaves themselves have a fresh, tangy flavor, which is enhanced by the addition of lemon; the light rice filling contains lots of fresh herbs and dried currants, for a hint of sweetness.
Served with thick yogurt, flavored with mint and dill, and sprinkled with fresh pomegranate seeds, it is the perfect dish for a spring brunch. Try it and enjoy.
* Grape leaves types: the best option, though not accessible to most, is using fresh grape leaves. If you’re lucky enough to find them, you’ll need to cook them briefly in boiling water, until they’re playable. The next best option, which I use here, are dry-vacuumed grape leaves, which only need to be socked in hot water for a short time. Another option is grape leaves in brine, which are quite acidic and salty. If you’re using this type, make sure to change the soaking water frequently, to get rid of access salt.
*Always keep a few extra leaves, to cover the bottom of the pot and for topping the stuffed grape leaves while cooking.
* Prepared leftover leaves can be placed in a Ziploc freezing bag and kept in the freezer for up to two months.
* The rice for the filling is cooked only half way through, so make sure not to overcook it or add more water than indicated.
* I usually add a handful of roasted pine nuts to the filling, but this time I didn’t have any. The dish is still very good as is, but if you have pine nuts, I highly recommend adding them.
Makes: 50 each
Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Chilling time: 2 hours (preferably overnight)
About 60 vacuumed packed grape leaves, prepared for cooking (see notes)
For the filling:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 scallions, finely chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground 4 pepper mix
¾ cup Basmati rice
¼ cup dried currants
¾ cup water
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1½ cups water
2 tsp salt
2 Tbs olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice ( from 1 medium lemon)
For serving: (optional)
2 cups thick yogurt, mixed with 2Tbs each finely chopped mint and dill, ¼ tsp salt, 1 Tbs olive oil
Fresh pomegranate seeds
1. The filling: in a wide frying pan, mix the onions, scallions, oil, salt and pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat, mixing occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and dried currants. Mix to coat with oil, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the water, bring to an almost boil, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for about 8 minutes, until the water is absorbed in the rice. Let cool a bit, add the herbs and mix well.
2. Cover the bottom of a wide shallow pot with about 5 prepared grape leaves. Place a few prepared grape leaves over a large cutting board, shiny side down. Remove the steam and place about 2 tsp of the filling in the center of each leave. Fold the lower part of the leave over the rice, then fold the sides towards the center, and roll to a bundle.
3. Place the stuffed leaves in the pot, side by side in one layer. Cover with the remaining leaves. Mix the cooking water with the salt, oil and lemon juice, and pour on top. Place a heat-proof plate, the size a bit smaller than the pot, on top, to prevent the leaves from moving during cooking.
Cover the pot and bring to an almost boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 50 minutes.
4. Uncover the pot and carefully remove the plate. Bring to room temperature, cover the pot and place in the fridge to cool, for at least 2 hours, or (preferably) overnight.
5. Serve with seasoned yogurt and fresh pomegranate seeds.