Thursday, 10 September 2009

Recipe #4: Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves

While looking for recipes of this Mediterranean classic I found that most people call them "stuffed vine leaves" but usually only grape leaves are used.  There are so many different variations out there but I was really happy with this one.  The mixture of ground lamb and beef along with lemon and mint was so flavorful!  I've tried quite a few stuffed grape leaves from restaurants and deli stores and haven't ever really been blown away.  These are different.  They are absolutely delicious, if labor intensive.  This is definitely a recipe to make with friends who can help you with stuffing all those leaves!  While making them I could imagine groups of Greek women sitting around while spooning the filling on to the leaves, rolling them, and gossiping all the while.  This is definitely social food - and I love that kind of food.  Worlds removed from the TV dinner, this is food rooted in tradition, culture, and community.  So invite over a few friends, pour some wine, and get working!

The following link provides very helpful step-by-step instructions on how to roll the leaves:
How to Fold Stuffed Vine Leaves.

For a note of history, stuffed vine leaves are Arab in origin, first appearing on the scene in the the early Islamic empire of the Abbasids who ruled in Baghdad between the 8th and 10th centuries, although there is some evidence that the Persians were stuffing grape leaves even earlier!  Apparently Ottoman cooks loved stuffing vegetables, leaves, cabbage and this practice traveled to Turkey and Greece.  In Greece and Turkey they're called dolmades or koupepia and the Arabs refer to them as waraq.

Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves  
(Printable Version)
Adapted from Jacques Remond's recipe here:
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 200-250 grams (approx. 1/2 pound) ground lamb
  • 200-250 grams (approx. 1/2 pound) ground beef
  • 3/4 cups red wine
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 onion chopped
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mint, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper
  • salt
  • 2 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth
  • 70-100 grape leaves
I am going to assume that most of you do not have access to fresh, tender grape leaves and will be using preserved ones!  Remove leaves from package and submerge in cool water to wash away the salty brine.  Rinse thoroughly and set in colander to drain.  While they're draining prepare the filling.
Heat some olive oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan and add the onion (the whole one that you've chopped).  Sauté until tender.  Add the meat and cook thoroughly.  Once meat is nicely browned and cooked through add the red wine.  Stir through. Next add the rice and lemon juice and stir through to prevent the rice from sticking together.  Allow to cook for about 30 seconds and remove from heat.  The rice will not cook at this stage so it's alright that it's still crunchy.
In a bowl mix the additional onion with the mint, parsley, and tomato.  Add the meat mixture and mix thoroughly.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Use any damaged leaves to line a large frying pan or skillet.  This prevents the doulmadas from sticking when you cook them.  Set aside an additional 20 leaves to place between the layers of doulmadas and to cover them once you've filled the pan.

Now, you're ready to stuff those leaves.  Place a leaf shiny side down and spoon a small amount of the filling into the base of the leaf where the stem used to connect.  You may need to remove the stems as you go.  Fold the bottom left lobe of the leaf over the filling followed by the lower right lobe.  Begin rolling the leaf up, tucking in the edges as you go.  Again, a good link with directions and photos can be found here.

Place the stuffed leaves side by side in the pan so they're all facing the same direction.  When you start the second layer, place a layer of leaves between the second layer to protect them while they cook.  Continue rolling those leaves until all the stuffing is used.

Cover your last layer with your reserved leaves.  Drizzly a generous splash of olive oil on top.  Place a heavy lid or inverted dish on top of the leaves and pour the chicken stock over the leaves until it comes up to the cover or dish.  Here's a picture of my improvised lid as I don't really have a nice heavy one that would keep the leaves in place and prevent them from unwrapping:

Bring to a simmer.  Once a simmer has been reached, reduce the heat to maintain the simmer but don't let it come to a full boil.  Also keep an eye on your pot and top up the cooking liquid with water as it evaporates so the leaves do not dry out.  Simmer for about 30 minutes.  At this point, pull out one of the doulmadas and check to see if the rice is fully cooked.  Be really careful here because these babies are hot!  If the rice is not tender, continue to cook for about another 10 minutes.

Gently remove the stuffed vine leaves with a slotted spoon or pair of tongs, allowing the excess liquid to drain.

Serve warm with lemon wedges.  Some recipes recommend serving with a yoghurt sauce, but these were good on their own!  Enjoy.  Leftovers can be served cold and are also really tasty.

© 2009 Rebecca Manor


Ashli said...

Leftovers can also be had for breakfast the following morning if you just can't wait til later in the day! These stuffed grape leaves are so delicious!

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