Stuffed vine leaves are proof that good things come in tighly rolled, delicious little packages. I have wanted to write this recipe for ages, and after posting an instagram poll last week asking followers if they wanted me to share the secrets behind the perfect stuffed vine leaves, the answer was a unanimous yes!
I’ve tried many versions of these vine leaves over the years – all specific to countries where grape leaves are abundant -making them a staple in Middle-Eastern, Turkish, and Balkan cuisine. Among my favorites are my Lebanese mother-in-laws warak anab, chef Colin Clagues Turkish dolma, and chef Halwa’s Palestinian exquisite meat filled version. After sampling countless delicious dolmas while island hopping through Greece this summer, I can’t forget to include those as well.
The version I make at home is simple, comforting and was given to me by my beautiful helper Eti who taught me the in’s and out’s behind this comforting dish.
Rolling these little packages takes a bit of time and practice – God knows it took me a while – so be patient with yourself! Once you get the hang of it, you’ll want to make these every time you crave a bit of therapeutic cooking to share with the people you love.
Makes five to six dozen grape leaves
- 1 kg jar grape vine leaves in a jar, well drained
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 1 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 300 grams fresh tomato, seeded and chopped
- 3 spring onions (white and green parts) chopped
- 1 and 1/2 cups Egyptian or other short grained rice, washed and drained
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- juice of 3 lemons
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 large potatoes, washed and slicked into thick rounds, for lining the pan
- 1 liter water
Prep your grape leaves:
Start by removing the grape leaves from the jar – they come coiled up in liquid so you’ll want to do this in batches. Separate a few of the leaves, and hang them over a colander to drain. Repeat the process with the remaining leaves until they have drained well.
Make your filling:
Combine mint, parsley, spring onion, chopped tomato, half the lemon juice salt and pepper, one tablespoon of the olive oil, and the drained rice. Set aside.
Line your pan:
Line a large, heavy bottom stockpot (approximately 4 quarts) with a tablespoon of olive oil and the potato slices. The potatoes are not really not part of the actual recipe, they are there to make sure the grape leaves do not stick to the bottom of the pan. If the potatoes happen to be tender and delicious when the leaves are cooked, go ahead and eat them!
Roll your grape leaves:
Working with one grape leaf at a time, snip off the tough stem at the center of the leaf with a pair of kitchen scissors. Lay the life shiny side down and the rough, veiny part facing you. Spread approximately 1 heaping teaspoon of the rice mixture at the base of the leaf. Make sure to squeeze any liquid from the rice mixture as you go – you will use the leftover rice liquid as part of the cooking liquid later.
Roll the base of the leaf away from you up over the filling, then fold the sides in towards the filing. Keep rolling the leaf as tight as you can into a cigar shape. all the way up to the top of the leaf, making sure the meat doesn’t leak out from the sides. Repeat with the remaining grape leaves. *If you come across leaves that are torn or broken, simply take a bit of another leaf and use it as a “patch” to cover the tear and continue to roll. You should also remove any large “veins” that might make rolling more difficult.
Ready, steady, cook:
Gently each stuff leaf into the stockpot on top of the potatoes. Make sure to place them tightly and in a circular pattern until all the rolls are nestled together in the pot. Invert a plate onto the leaves to keep them submerged. Pour over enough water to cover, along with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Place a can, brick or a small bowl halfway up with water and put it directly on the plate that’s keeping the leaves submerged to weigh the plate down. This will keep the plate from moving around as the grape leaves cook.(if the weight is higher than the stock pot, you will need to cover it with foil)
Bring to a boil over high heat, cook for thirty minutes. Reduce heat to medium/ low and continue to simmer gently for 1 and 1/2 hours, at which point you will give the liquid a taste to check for seasoning. Add more salt and lemon if desired. Continue to cook for another 45 minutes to an hour until the leaves and rice are tender when pierced with a fork and the sauce has reduced to a thick glaze consistency.
Remove the pan from the heat and let cool completely. Refrigerate the stuffed grape leaves for a minimum of four hours or overnight. The longer they refrigerate, the better they will retain their shape.
Place a plate directly onto the stuffed grape leaves to hold them in place, and carefully tilt the cooking pot to remove the excess liquid into a bowl. Remove the plate, and put a large plate or platter directly over the pot. Carefully invert onto a plate, and let the pot sit over it for 15 to 30 minutes to allow the grape leaves time to dislodge and remain in a nice, circular pattern. Carefully take off the pot, and remove the layer of potatoes. If any rolls have moved, just pop them back into place. Serve at room temperature.
*tip: Once rolled and stuffed, you can freeze uncooked, stuffed grape leaves for up to a month. Freeze in an airtight container without any liquid. Defrost in the refrigerator the night before you plan on cooking them. Arrange them over the potatoes, still partially frozen to retain their shape, add the liquid and cook as directed.