Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice and Herbs

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.

Notes:
* 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)

Ingredients:
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
For cooking:
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.

63 thoughts on “Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice and Herbs

  1. judilyn says:

    I’ve always wanted to try grape leaves with a stuffing, but alas, the occasion has not arisen. If ever I happen across the most necessary component, I will give it a try. The pomegranate seeds are a nice colorful touch. I happily found one that had been hiding in the back of the produce drawer of my refrigerator, so we had seeds totally out of season for a few days with our regular melange of fruit for breakfast. I had no idea they would keep so well for so long, so next season, a few will “hide” in the same place!

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. judilyn says:

    Somehow we had never been interested in pomegranates, so didn’t start using them until about three years ago when a friend came to dine on pizza with us and brought a few from his tree. We were hooked! I tried the frozen ones – in a word – blech!

    I keep my eye on the specialty shelf at the local grocery stores for such out-of-season items, but have had no luck. They are expensive here even in season, so they may be out of reach even if they show up out of season. We get a lot of reasonably-priced produce out of season here because it is brought up from Mexico, but it’s not clear that pomegranates grow in Mexico, although I can’t see why not. There is a tree in the yard next door to us, but it had only two fruits on it this year. One of the workers at the ethnic grocery store said that he has several trees in his yard, but that they did not produce well this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tasty Eats Ronit Penso says:

      Pomegranates were always popular in Israel, so I was hooked on them from childhood. I was so glad when they became more popular here! Thankfully, I usually find them very reasonably priced here in NY. Frozen ones are indeed disgusting! :)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. woodboneandstone says:

    When we were out yesterday I saw some nice tender grape leaves growing in the wild. I mentioned to Faye that they were a good size for making dolmas. I would have picked some but we were in a wildlife refuge and I knew it would be frowned upon.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Daniela Anderson says:

    We loved these rolls in Romania, although we use grape leaves too, we prefer the pickled cabbage leaves or sauerkraut, and as a filling usually meat & rice, or veggies and rice.
    I cook these rolls pretty often, my little girl loves them too, it’s the only food she hardly ever refuses, she’s pretty fussy when it comes to food.
    I love your version, l have to give them a try!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. chef mimi says:

    Beautiful! They’re so pretty with the pomegranate! I haven’t made dolma in years. My mother made Greek food often, although I’m sure these aren’t only Greek. I remember she’d place lettuce leaves in the skillet before adding the dolma. I guess to prevent sticking and burning. Plus it probably adds some moisture with the lid on. So that’s what I’ve done. But it’s been too long. I even love eating them cold right out of the fridge. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. nahdalaskitchen says:

    Awesome~! You’ve just added another delicious morsel to our fingerfoody movie-night-munchies buffet this weekend! Can’t wait to try them out :) I’ve always loved stuffed grape leaves and the elusive fresh leaves were the very reason I went and approached my favorite greens grocer with a special request for the first time… As it turned out, he never has them in stock due to the lack of a regular demand of the “raw” product, but he’s always able to order them and deliver within a day or two~

    Liked by 2 people

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