This time of year, grape leaves are perfect: tender, smallish and shiny. They can be used to stuff, can be frozen to use later in the year, or eaten fresh with tabbouleh salad.
Here is a classic example that only requires fresh veggies, fresh herbs, fresh grape leaves (for that melt-in-the-mouth result), rice and lemon and olive oil.
When stuffing grape leaves, here is what you need to know:
- If using fresh leaves or canned leaves, place the leaf in front of you on the side that has all the veins, not the smooth side. You want the smooth shiny side to be showing when you are done.
- It is important to line the pot in which the leaves are going to cook with slices of potatoes, tomatoes and even onions; this is to prevent the leaves from sticking to the pot or burning and it also will infuse the broth.
- If you have a lot of leaves and want to save the extra ones, simply line them up one on top of the other and place them in a ziploc bag; take care that no water gets into the bag, and freeze them as is. You will be able to reuse them at any time just like you would with fresh leaves off the vine.
- Don’t pack the stuffing inside each leaf as you want to leave room for the rice to expand and not burst the leaves.
- It is fine to add a dash of sugar to the stuffing or a dash of chili powder or hot red pepper powder, however it is not traditional.
- If you have never stuffed leaves before, don’t sweat it; you can form any kind of little parcel and it will work; just make sure before you cook them to hold them in the pot with a heavy plate and even a rock on top of that plate if you can get one.
- 70 grape leaves (approximately)
- 1 cup of rice; needs to be either Egyptian, sushi, Italian, or Turkish rice (medium grain and starchy not Basmati!)
- 2 large onions (one used to line the pan and the other chopped for the stuffing)
- 4 pounds of tomatoes (pick ripe tomatoes with lots of flavor, reserving 2 to line the pot)
- 4 lemons, juiced
- olive oil, as needed
- salt, as needed
- 2 bunches of Italian, flat-leaved parsley
- 1 bunch of fresh mint
- 3 large Russet or baking potatoes to line the pot
- 1 tsp of sugar or (and) chili pepper powder, optional
- 1/2 cup of pine nuts (optional)
- Wash the leaves if fresh and bring several cups of water to a boil in a pot; dip the leaves in the pot for a few seconds until they turn limp and drain. If using canned leaves, do the same thing in order to remove that briny taste from the leaves.
- In a bowl, place the rice and cover with water to soak with a dash of salt while you chop the veggies.
- Chop the onion fine, and the other onion in large rings to line the pot. Peel the potatoes and cut in thick slices and line the pot with them.Line the pot with the potatoes, tomatoes and onion rings.
- Chop the tomatoes fine. Wash, chop the parsley leaves and mint and place in the bowl with the chopped onion and tomatoes; add the drained rice. Mix the stuffing and add 1/2 cup of lemon and 1/2 cup of olive oil to it. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt. Add the sugar or chili powder if using, and mix well to combine.
- Assembling the leaves; place each leaf in front of you (smooth side not showing), place a tablespoon of stuffing in the middle of it and roll up by first folding the leaves from one side to the other. Place side by side in the pot.
- Place a heavy plate and a rock if you have one on top of the plate to hold the leaves tight and add the remaining juice from the bowl in which you have mixed the stuffing. Add one cup of water and bring the pot to a gentle simmer. Simmer very gently for 45 minutes. The leaves and stuffing should release extra juice in which the rice and leaves will cook gently. If the broth is not sufficient, add some more water. Taste one leaf to make sure the rice is cooked and set the pot aside to cool. Flip the pot onto a large platter and serve at room temperature as an appetizer.
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