June 19, 2012

How to Make Your Own Grape Leaves

I love grape leaves!  But, I don't just love them because they are delicious.  I love them because they remind me of my childhood.  We're not Greek, but before my sister and I were born, my parents went on several cruises through the Greek isles.  The food must have stuck with them, because for as long as I can remember, greek salad in pita bread was a standard weeknight meal we probably ate at least once a month, greek olives were always on hand, and when I was small, I can remember my Dad making meat stuffed grape leaves and teaching me how to fold them.  I can't remember not knowing how to fold them.  But, the grape leaves we made and ate at home were different that the typical grape leaves you can buy at the store or order in a restaurant.  It seems that most grape leaves are rice filled, which, don't get me wrong, are absolutely delicious.  What we made and ate, though, were meat filled and simmered in a combination of tomato and lemon, giving them a completely different flavor.  I made some this past Sunday afternoon and have been enjoying them ever since!

Grape Leaves
1 1/2 lb. ground lamb
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced or put through a press
3 Tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup uncooked Jasmine rice
3 Tbsp tart dried cherries, measured, then chopped

2 bottles grape vine leaves

4 or more cups of water
juice of 1/2 or 1 lemon
1 or 2 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce

First, assemble the filling.  In a medium bowl, mix together the filling ingredients.  The tart dried cherries are a tribute to one of my favorite Persian dishes, rice with sour cherries, yum!  When my Dad makes these, sometimes he adds pine nuts and dried apricots.  For this amount of filling, I think you'll need between 1 1/2 to 2 jars of grape leaves.  If you're unfamiliar with grape leaves, you can buy them at the supermarket, they'll probably be near the bottled olives.  Remove them gently from the jars and rinse them with water, they'll most likely be packed in a brine that you'll want to gently rinse, but you don't have to be extremely thorough. Because they are wet, using a colander may be helpful for the leaves.  Separate them, they'll be delicate, and do your best not to tear them.  Some may already be a little imperfect, either having holes or tears, set these aside, they have their uses, too.

To fill them, take a grape leaf and lay it on your folding surface, with the interior of the leaf facing you.  If there is still a stem attached at the bottom, just pinch it with your fingers to remove.  Place a small amount of filling near the base of the leaf.  Your first step in folding is pulling the bottom portion over the filling, as shown in the picture.  Next, you fold in the sides.  Depending on the width and shape of the leaf, you may need to also fold in the sides of the top of the leaf.  Finally, your last step is to roll the grape leaf forward toward the top of the leaf.  Look at that!  How wonderful does that look?

Folding your grape leaves is lots of fun, why not teach your children how to do it and do it together as an activity?  Our son is a little too young for this, but when he's ready, I look forward to cooking in the kitchen with him.  He's not yet too interested in cooking, mostly he's interested in eating what I'm making!  We did make chex mix together once, mostly, though, he ate it while we were making it, but good helping nonetheless!

I used a Le Creuset dutch oven to cook these, but really, any pot with a lid that will go on top of the stove will do just fine.  First, remember the imperfect grape leaves we talked about?  Torn pieces and leaves with holes?  Use those to line the bottom of the pot, so the grape leaves you've so lovingly folded don't stick to the bottom and come apart.  Next, place your folded grape leaves, with the opening on the bottom, in layers in the pot.  This next part will depend on how many grape leaves you're making and the dimensions of your pot.  Add water until it's partially covering the top layer of grape leaves.  Then, pour over one or more cans of tomato sauce.  Next, squeeze 1/2 to 1 lemon over the whole pot.  Cover with the lid.  Simmer on the stove, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, checking to see if more water is needed.  Test a grape leaf to see that the meat and rice are completely cooked.  You may enjoy these right away, a delicious accompaniment is greek style yogurt, either plain or mixed with dill, garlic and lemon juice.  Or, you may refrigerate them and then reheat them as you eat them.  I think you'll find these a savory, tasty treat!

On the cruises that my parents went on, my Grandmother went on one as well.  While on the trip, she acquired a gold coin, which she had made into a necklace pendant, which she gave to me.  Making these prompted me to pull it out of the jewelry box and wear it while I enjoyed them!

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