Stuffed Grape Leaves is an appetizer originating from the Middle East, Turkey and Greece. If you ask any Greek for the origin of stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) and you will in all likelihood be told that they were served atop Mount Olympus.
To the Greeks all the foods that are special, traditional and delicious like dolmades – stuffed grape leaves with minced lamb and rice – were first served on the mountain of the gods – along with ambrosia and nectar.
Through my travels I learned that most stuffed grape leaves in Greece today do not contain meat. Throughout the middle east, you will find that virtually every culture and region has their own version of this recipe. The recipe I am presenting here is Lebanese in origin and contains meat, rice and pine nuts. It is my favorite version of this traditional dish and I am sure that once you taste these, it will be your as well!
Making these little bundles of joy takes a little time, but you will find it easier than you think. Creating these traditional dishes are labors of love, but serve them to your friends and family and all that love will come back tenfold!
Begin with washing your grape leaves by blanching them in boiling water for two minutes. Don’t put them all in at once, do it in manageable batches. After you are done, put them on a plate with paper towels in between to dry them before rolling.
After I wash my grape leaves and prepare the mixture for the stuffing, I lay out my ingredients and organize a comfortable workspace at my kitchen table. Have a seat as you will be more comfortable sitting to prepare this dish.
Next I take a leaf, lay it our carefully on the cutting board, placing about 1 Tablespoon of mixture inside. Try to keep the size of the finished product as consistent as possible. This will help them all cook consistently.
Begin rolling from the base of the grape leaf.
Then fold in both the left and right sides of the grape leaf.
Now that you have the stuffing mixture contained, roll the leaf until it is log shaped.
OK, That’s 1, about 50 more to go!
Start arranging the stuffed grape leaves in the pot being careful to leave as little space as possible between the grape leaves. This will help them stay together while cooking.
And some time in the not to distant future, you should have a pot that looks something like this…..
Placing a plate atop the leaves will help ensure the stuffing stays put during the cooking process.
- 60 fresh grape leaves or one large jar of grape leaves in conserve
- 1 cup uncooked white rice
- 1 pound ground lamb or beef
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon of allspice
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- 1½ teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 3-4 cups of chicken stock
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Remove the grape leaves from the jar. Discard the liquid. Cook the grape leaves for two minutes in order to wash them. If using fresh leaves do the same. Cook them for two minutes and dry them individually with paper towels. Set them aside.
- Soak the rice in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain rice in a colander.
- In a bowl, combine rice, lamb or beef, cinnamon, allspice, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Mix until combined.
- Using one grape leaf, lay leaf on a flat surface and place about 1 tablespoon of filling on the leaf. Roll up, folding in sides to seal. Continue until all filling is used.
- To cook:
- Place a few unfilled leaves on the bottom of a large pot. Place stuffed leaves on top of these- arrange one layer and then one or two more layers, as needed.
- Pour two cups of chicken stock or more, enough liquid to cover the leaves in the pot and place a small plate on top of grape leaves to weight down. Cover pan with a tight fitting lid and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes.
- Remove cover and dish, and add in lemon juice. Place dish and cover back on pot and cook another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to stand 10 minutes before eating.
- Serve with hummus, olives, yogurt or labne and pita bread.