For months I’ve been meaning to make stuffed grape leaves; it’s been in the back of my mind ever since I saw Leslie’s delicious creations on her blog. If I’d made them then, it’d have looked like I was copying! So, I waited a respectable length of time and finally got down to work and made them this weekend.
I had never made stuffed grape leaves before, and what I do when I’m making something for the first time is research, research, research, let the research settle into my brain, and then do whatever the hell I want, hoping that the research will keep me out of too much trouble. I checked a few blogs (like this one and this one) to make sure I understood the rolling technique and the important physics behind grape leaves–rice swells as it cooks, so don’t roll them too tightly or it’ll burst right through the leaf–and then I decided what I wanted to put into my leaves and got to work.
And it is a lot of work! I sat down at the kitchen table at around 4:30 to begin rolling, but my rolls weren’t ready to go onto the stove until 6:00. Of course, I did pause often to take the photos that you’ll see below. But be warned that rolling the leaves, while not difficult, is time consuming. That’s to be expected for a recipe that makes 45-50 stuffed grape leaves.
One thing nobody on any blog or any cookbook told me: how to get the leaves out of the jar without tearing them the #&%$ up! I finally resorted to working them part way out of the jar and then grabbing them firmly in one hand and rocking them back and forth, inserting a finger every now and then to let a little air in and break the vacuum. It took a while, but most of them were usable.
Grape Leaves Stuffed with Lentils and Rice
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup chopped parsley (measured after chopping)
1/2 cup minced mint (measured after mincing)
1/2 cup finely minced green onions
1 cup diced tomatoes (canned, drained of juice)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. garam masala or blend of coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon
1 1/4 cups of medium or short-grain brown rice
3/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed and checked for impurities
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 1-lb jar grape leaves
4-5 red potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 lemon, sliced
Mix together all ingredients except the grape leaves, potatoes, and lemon slices. Drain the liquid out of the jar of grape leaves, and get the leaves out of the jar in whatever way you can. (If you’re not going to make a whole recipe, save the brine and put the leftover leaves back into it.) Wash them well, and set aside any that have holes in them (don’t throw them away).
To begin rolling the leaves, place a leaf with the veiny part facing up, the shiny side down. Cut off the stem. Place about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the rice mixture in a horizontal line just above the cut stem:
Fold the two bottom sections of the leaf over the filling:
Then fold the sides in:
Roll the bottom of the leaf up, tucking in the sides as you go. You want this to be fairly tight, but not too tight. But if you have to err, err on the side of tightness. You don’t want any gaps or exposed filling, or it will all boil out when cooking. A finished roll looks like this:
Pour yourself a glass of wine, and do this 44 more times, until you run out of filling. If, for some reason, you run out of leaves first, save the filling and cook it with about double its amount of water. (I had leaves left over, not filling.) When you accidentally tear a leaf, wipe it off and set it aside.
When you’re finished, prepare a large sauce pan or Dutch oven by spraying or wiping it with olive oil. Line the bottom with the potato slices (these will keep the delicate grape leaves off of the direct heat).
On top of the potatoes, put a layer of the imperfect leaves that you had set aside. And then arrange your stuffed grape leaves, snuggly. Try to fit them so that there isn’t any space between them. When you’ve fit them all in, put the lemon slices on top:
Gently add water until it reaches about the middle of the top row of grape leaves, and cover the whole thing with more empty grape leaves. Place a heavy plate (I used two, one on top of the other) on top of the grape leaves to weigh them down. Cover the pot tightly, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, turn it down to very low and cook for an hour and 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let the stuffed leaves rest undisturbed in the pan for 20 more minutes.
Serve them (and the potatoes) with the dipping sauce of your choice. I would have liked to make a soy yogurt sauce, but I was all out of homemade yogurt (and the “plain” they sell in the store is actually sweetened) so i made a sort of sweet and sour sauce:
To make the sauce I mixed 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses, 1 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon chopped garlic. It was more sour than sweet, so adjust the proportions to fit your taste.
We will be eating grape leaves for quite a while. Does anyone know if these things freeze?
5/30 edited to add: I just made a Tofu-Yogurt Dipping Sauce that was very good with these. I mixed the following in the blender:
1/3 box (about 4 ounces) silken tofu
1 tbsp. soymilk
1 tbsp lemon juice
pinch dill weed
1/4 tsp. salt (to taste)
Poured it into a bowl and added about 1/3 cup of finely diced, de-seeded cucumber. Refrigerated until chilled. It tastes remarkably like soy yogurt, without the sweetness that some brands have.