Stuffed Grape Leaves is one of those dishes that you really should make once in your life. There is something about the delicious salty natural grape leaf wrap against the soft flavorful filling with exotic spices that makes you feel so, well, cosmopolitan in your very own kitchen. Put on the sound track to “Never on Sunday” and then you’ll have it: the Greek Isles right in your own humble kitchen.
I was thrilled to see the Daring Cooks challenge for October – and, so happy that we were encouraged to be creative with this dish. I decided to go vegan with this one, since I’m not a big ground beef fan. I used a convenience frozen meat substitute by Morning Star Farms and added diced dried apricots and diced hazelnuts to the rice filling. I also simplified by cooking them in grape leaf “cups.” I blanched the grape leaves until softened slightly and then put the grape leaves in ramekins. I then filled them and then baked them. What an adventure – thanks to Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness.
The Daring Cooks October creations did not disappoint. Here’s a sampling:Â The Always Amazing Australian Audax Artifex created a Medditerranean lamb version, a Finnish version and deep fried cabbage rolls. Outstanding! Check out the many versions: Elegant Asian Cabbage Rolls by Jenn Cuisine; Turkey Liver Rolls – Mary Mary Culinary; Cabbage Rolls (with Added Shrimp), The Energetic Chef; Stuffed Leaves Two Ways, Erushi; Cheap Ethnic Eats – amazing photo; Shepherd’s Pie Stuffed Leaves; Creative Recipes for Wandering Minds; South African Dolmades, Creative Pot; Stuffed Grape Leaves, The Crafts of Mommyhood; Lamb Dolmas, Monkeyshines; Dlomades with Fresh Grape Leaves, Eat4fun.
Here’s the unaltered Daring Cooks recipe:
Grape Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat and Rice with Apricot Tamarind Sauce/ Yebra
Adapted from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck and Michael J. Cohen. Published by Harper Collins, 2007
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Ingredients for hashu/filling:
1 pound (455 gm) ground (minced) beef
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 1/3 oz) (65 gm) short grain rice
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) all spice
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) cinnamon
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) kosher (coarse) salt **if using regular table salt only use Â½ tsp.**
Â¼ teaspoon (1Â¼ ml) (1Â½ gm) white pepper
1 onion, chopped **optional**
1 cup (5Â½ oz) (150 gm) pine nuts **optional**
1.Soak rice in water, enough to cover, for 30 minutes. Combine meat, rice, allspice, vegetable oil, cinnamon, salt, white pepper, and if desired, onion and pine nuts, in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
Ingredients for assembly:
1 pound (455 gm) hashu/filling (see recipe above)
36 preserved grape leaves, stems trimmed, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
6 dried apricots â€“ or more if you desire
3 tablespoons (45 ml) tamarind concentrate **if you canâ€™t find it, you can omit it**
Â¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (9 gm) kosher (coarse) salt **if using regular table salt only use 1.5 tsp.**
If using grape leaves preserved in brine, to remove salt put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Make sure that the water penetrates well between the layers, and leave them soaking for about twenty minutes, then change the water a time or two using fresh cold water.
If using fresh leaves, plunge a few at a time in boiling water for a few seconds only, until they become limp, and lift them out.
Tamarind is actually fairly easy to find.Â There is a paste that is in package already made up.Â You can find it at Asian, Mexican or Indian grocers.Â You can also find the pods (a little more difficult) and make it yourself.Â It is akin to a sweet/tangy tea flavor. If you canâ€™t find it, you can skip the sauce all togheter. The grape leaves will be just as delicious without the sauce. But we hope that those that can find it will use it.
1.Place a grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up. You can trim the little stem if you would like.
2.Place about two teaspoons (10 ml) of the filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge.
3.Roll the leaf end to end, starting from the stem edge. As you roll, fold the sides of the leaf in toward the center. The leaf should resemble a small cigar, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches (50 mm to 65mm) long.
4.Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
a.(You can freeze the stuffed grape leaves at this point. Just line a baking sheet with wax paper. When firmly frozen, transfer to an airtight plastic bag place back in the freezer.)
5.In a medium saucepan put in the vegetable oil and then place the filled grape leaves in the pot.
6.Place apricots in between the stuffed grape leaves. Cover and cook over low heat for 5- 8 minutes or until the grape leaves begin to sweat.
7.Using all three tablespoons, place a little of the tamarind concentrate, if using, over the rolls.
8.Combine lemon juice, salt, and water then add to pan, filling it Â¾ full.
9.Weigh down the grape leaves with a heat proof plate or board to prevent them from unraveling. Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes.
a.Alternatively, place the saucepan in an oven preheated to moderate 350Â°F/180Â°C/gas mark 4 and cook for an hour.
10.Spoon cooking liquid over the grape leaves occasionally. You will know they are done, when the grape leaves are neither soupy nor dry.
11.Tilt pan sideways over serving platter, allowing the grape leaves to tumble out. Try not to handle them individually to reduce unraveling.