Monday, April 5, 2010

No Arab Mama in the Kitchen?

Then you'll have to make the grape leaves yourself.


Stuffed grape leaves are an acquired taste. Having eaten many bad renditions, I can understand why people may say they don't care for the dish. Made properly, it's a little bite of heaven. There are as many versions of this recipe as there are grape varietals. You won't come across a better recipe than mine. If you think you have, send it along and I'll try to keep an open mind when I try it. Since you aren't here to eat the leftovers, meager as they are, I'm giving you my recipe along with a picture tutorial. While they sound difficult at first, to make 100, it only takes about an hour in prep and an hour to cook.

First, you'll have to start with the leaves themselves. The name implies where the leaves can be found: anywhere you find a grape vine. If you happen past an area where ethnic women appear to be cleaning a fence of vines, don't worry. It's not some new type of chain gang. You've likely stumbled across pilferers of wild grape leaves. If you're not as adventurous as women like these, you can get your grape leaves from the grocer. That's where I pick mine. You can also order them from an online grocer. Living in a city that houses the most Arabs outside of the Middle East, even the local grocers carry grape leaves in metro Detroit. The California Orlando brand is one of my favorites. There are approximately 60 fairly perfect grape leaves in every jar.

Here are the rest of the ingredients:

1. 2 pounds ground chuck. I like lamb, but not everyone does, so I go with the beef. I use chuck because of the fat content. Fat = flavor. Don't change things here and think you're doing your waistline (or pocketbook) a favor by using sirloin. They won't be tasty.
2. 1.5 cups of rice. I use Uncle Ben's original. No instant rice here.
3. Two to three lemons--how many used depends on how juicy they are. Fresh lemons only!
4. Salt and pepper to taste.
5. Water
6. An ancient, but trusty pot along with tools to weight the rolls down--more about that later.
7. Good Greek yogurt, plain of course.


Before you get to the good part, soak the rice in water. Really there is just enough to cover the grains. The purpose is twofold as it helps rinse any impurities out--they float to the top--and it softens the raw rice.

Gently remove the leaves from the jar. They're vacuum packed in there and can be hard to remove from the jar. Think finesse here, not force. Rinse the leaves in cold water and save the torn and ratty looking ones (shouldn't be many) to line the bottom of the pot.

Lined and ready for loading.

With a small paring knife, or your fingers, trim the piece of stem that's connected to the leaf. These vines are tough and you don't want them in your rolls.

Season the meat. I use a healthy teaspoon of kosher salt for the two pounds of meat and another healthy teaspoon for the two cups of rice. The pepper? Oh, about 20 grinds of fresh pepper (not too coarse). Scoop up the rice in your hands and squeeze the water out. Put the rice in with the meat and quickly working with your hands, mix the rice into the meat.


Heat up a pan and fry a small sample to test your seasoning. Since the leaves are stored in a brine-like solution, don't go crazy with salt. Additionally, they'll cook in a lemon bath, so the tartness and acidity will add flavor. If the cooked sample tastes great, you're ready to roll.

Lay the leaf private side up. The veins of the leaf are visible and more palpable and this side is duller than the public side of things. We're not making cigars here, so less is more with the meat. For a regular sized leaf, pick up and gently place about 1.5 tablespoons of meat at the base of the leaf (where the stems were detached). Without overworking the meat (this is important, or they will be tough), lay the meat out width wise like above.

Fold the bottom of the leaf up over the meat, and then the sides. Starting at the bottom, roll toward the tips of the leaf with the palm of your hand.

A perfectly rolled grape leaf.

Line the leaves up like little soldiers in your pot. When the first layer is in, give the pot a quarter turn and lay the next layer in perpendicular to the preceding layer. Turn the pot for every layer.

Next, you need three cups of water mixed with the juice of about 2 lemons and don't forget to strain the seeds out. Add about a half to one teaspoon of kosher salt to the mixture. If you run out of lemon juice and it still isn't lemony enough, grate half of one lemon peel (no pith) into the mixture.

Place an oven proof plate upside down over your leaves and while pressing gently on the plate, pour the water into the pot. It should just come to the top of the leaves. I usually add a heavy, oven proof bowl half filled with water on top of the plate. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, then turn to low and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Smack anyone's hand who lifts the lid, but be sure you're not boiling away in there. You don't want your little bit of water to evaporate before the rice is cooked. If it seems like it is, add a bit of boiling water to the pot to keep it going.


Place on a platter, give the leaves another squeeze of fresh lemon juice. We like ours with a big dollop of plain yogurt on top. If you've not tried it, give it a try. It's delicious like that.

The above recipe will make about 100 rolls, so you need 2 jars of grape leaves to make them. If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, you can eat them cold, or try sauteing them in a little butter with a pinch of dried spearmint sprinkled on top.

Bon app├ętit!


15 comments:

willowtree said...

They look suspiciously like Dolmades, which do range from "wow, those are great!" to "oh geezes! that tastes like dog shit!!"

Rose said...

Wow, that looks yummy. I'll have to give that recipe a try.

Rudee said...

WT, you're right. Also called dolmas.

Amy said...

Want some. I know, I know--you've given me the recipe before. I really have to try it. Love stuffed grape leaves.

Queenmothermamaw said...

They look delicious but I bet I will not be trying to make them. I would eat them for sure but HH is so stubborn he wouldn't even give them a try. I misses a lot of good things that way. Hooray for the first memories made in the new house. Blessings
QMM

Rositta said...

I've made them a couple of times for my sweetie over the years but since I don't care for them very much I now buy them in cans. I know their probably not nearly as good but that's life. I won't show him your post, today he'd just want me to make him some...ciao

Rudee said...

Rositta, you may like this rendition. It's my own after many years of trial and error. If you do make them for your husband, he'll hound you to make more. My friend makes many hundreds of these at a time and freezes them. She uses fresh grape leaves. Ugh. The work!

Stephanie V said...

Dolmades have been on my favorite list for many years. They were one of the first things I tried when the Greek restaurants were just beginning to open here in Vancouver - oh, probably 40 years ago. They reminded me of cabbage rolls which my mother made but wa-a-y better.

We have so many different middle eastern eateries here nowadays that I could find them anywhere. But maybe none like yours - thanks for the recipe.

Jadekitty said...

I tried these in St.John's and my hunny said they weren't nearly as good as others he has tried. I am tempted to make these!

Catherine said...

This looks yummy - we had a Greek Club in Tanzania when we lived there and the aging community of Greek farmers had great food whenever they had a party night there - and these featured a lot, and other unrecognisable greek food and they made the best yogurt for sale, we'd keep it going for ages as a starter and then renew it after a few months when it got past it.
I replied to your comment on my knitting over at my blog in case you don't get notification!
All the best, Catherine.

Catherine said...

This looks yummy - we had a Greek Club in Tanzania when we lived there and the aging community of Greek farmers had great food whenever they had a party night there - and these featured a lot, and other unrecognisable greek food and they made the best yogurt for sale, we'd keep it going for ages as a starter and then renew it after a few months when it got past it.
I replied to your comment on my knitting over at my blog in case you don't get notification!
All the best, Catherine.

Brenda said...

These look good Rudee. I have never heard of them or tried them though. I was wondering what the utensil was on one of the first few photos that looks like a file. I don't have one of those...so I am curious.

Rudee said...

Brenda, it's a microplane grater. Any fine grater would do, but this is perfect for grating just a bit of lemon zest.

Sandy said...

They look good....I would be interested to try grape leaves.

Miss T said...

I MUST try those! Thanks for sharing the recipe.