Monday, July 11, 2011

Home-made Stuffed Grape Leaves

My conversation with A. went something like this:

S.: “I now grow fresh mint in my garden. When you come visit next time, you can make these killer mojitos again!” (A. makes the best mojitos known to mankind) 

A. “Hmmm, I am kind of mojitos-ed out….” (Instead of a grad student, A. is now a hard working professional.) “…. but you know what? Fresh mint is great in stuffed grape leaves!!!!” 

I kind of scratched my head; I had had an attempt at stuffed grape leaves a few years ago but somehow did not prepare the leaves quite right and they were too tough to eat. But, I decided to give it another try, with focus on getting the leaves prepared correctly. And, with the help of google search and online tutorials, success was granted this time! 


More photos and the rest of the recipe below. . .

  • ca 25 fresh grape leaves, prepared (click this link)
  • rice stuffing (recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 1 TB extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 TB fresh lemon juice
Preparing fresh grape leaves:
Just for the purpose of making stuffed grape leaves I planted 3 vines in my garden a few years ago. The vines grow new leaves all summer long, so it is easy to harvest them when they are ‘just the right size’ (not too tiny, but also not fully grown because they are less tender). A simple way to prepare the grape leaves is to cut them off the vines, clean and drain them, and then blanch each leaf in boiling water with some fresh lemon juice for about 1 min each. Remove the leaf from the hot water, and layer it on top of the other blanched grape leaves in a plastic container. They can easily be frozen until use. Actually I try to always freeze them at least for a few hours, since it makes the texture more tender. This online step-by-step tutorial is also a great instruction set of how to prepare fresh grape leaves.

Thaw the grapes leaves, and they are ready to use. 

Preparing rice stuffing:

  • 1 TB extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 TB raw pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 medium sized red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 TB tomato paste
  • 2 small garlic cloves, microplaned
  • 1 ts bouillon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • large handful of fresh mint, chopped
  • large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 TB dried dill
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To make the rice for the stuffed grape leaves, heat a medium saucepan over medium heat, and add the pine nuts; stir and toast the pine nuts for about 1-2 minutes or until they are golden brown (don’t walk away, they burn in a second!). Remove  pine nuts from the pan, and cool. Now, add the olive oil to the pan, and heat. Add the chopped onion and fry on medium heat until translucent. Add the rice, hot water, bouillon, tomato paste, tomatoes and the grated garlic; stir the mixture, cover the pot, and cook gently for approximately 15 to 20 minutes (make sure there is enough water!). Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice, fresh mint, parsley, dill and add the pine nuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the stuffing cool for about 1 hour before stuffing the grape leaves.

grape leaf stuffing

Stuffing Grape Leaves:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

To stuff the leaves, do the following (see picts below): take a leaf and carefully flatten it out on a plate  or cutting board with the veins facing you. Place ca. 1 TB of the rice filling near the stem end of the leaf (the amount of stuffing has to be adjusted to the size of the leaves). Press the stuffing into a small roll-like shape. Now, fold the stem end of the leaf over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and then roll it up into a cigar shape (it should be snug but not too tight because the rice will expand a little bit more once it is fully cooked; otherwise the grape leaf might burst). The rolls should be cylindrical (about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick). Squeeze lightly in the palm of your hand to secure the rolls. Repeat with the remaining grape leaves and filling.

how to stuff a grape leaf

Prepare a large heavy oven-proof pan with a lid. Arrange the stuffed grape leaves in the pan, seam-side down, packing them close together, arranging in a circle. If you have made more stuffed grape leaves, you can places them as 2-3 layers on top of each other. Don’t place the rolls together too tightly as they won't cook well - also don't leave too much space between them as they will unravel.

Pour the 1 1/2 cups hot water, olive oil, and lemon juice over them (premix them 3 ingredients in a cup ahead of time). Cover the pan with a lid. On the stovetop, over medium heat, bring the liquid just to a boil and move baking dish to the oven and cook approximately 45 to 60 minutes or until the grape rolls are tender and the water has been mostly absorbed. Remove from oven and let cool.
stuffed grape leaves after baking

Transfer the stuffed grape leaves to a serving dish. You can cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate them first. They can be served chilled or at room temperature, garnished with sheep milk feta cheese, and olives, and white wine!

NOTE: Stuffed grape leaves keep about a week in the refrigerator.

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