Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

This month’s challenge was to make a filling and roll it in grape leaves. I’ve tried stuffed grape leaves a few times before at various restaurants, but have never really been a huge fan of them. They often have a very “briney” taste that is a little off-putting to me. Nonetheless, I was excited to try rolling some from scratch.

The filling for the grape leaves was totally up to each individual cook, but whatever filling was chosen had to include rice. Lori provided two recipes for inspiration – one with meat and one without. I opted to go the meatless route and followed Lori’s Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves recipe with a few additions.

I knew that rolling the leaves was going to be the most time consuming part, and I also knew that I wanted to go all out with a tasty Greek feast to accompany the grape leaves. Taking those things into consideration, I enlisted the help of a fellow daring cook to knock these babies out. That was definitely a good decision – having someone to help stuff and roll the leaves not only helped make the time go faster, but I think it also helped me my maintain my sanity. The smaller the grape leaf, the more difficulty I had in getting it rolled and stuffed without splitting. I got desperate near the end and started layering the smaller torn leaves in creative ways to try and produce enough grape leaves to fill the pan tightly.

Despite all the difficulty rolling, I have to say that the end results were fantastic. These were by far the best stuffed grape leaves I have ever tasted. And while they probably won’t be in my regular rotation of cooking, I am so glad I had the opportunity to make them and enjoy the company of good friends while doing so!

You can view the recipe for the Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves after the jump.

Wara Einab or Dolma/Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food a Borzoi Book, published by Alfred A. Knopf
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

24 – 30 preserved or fresh grape leaves.
1 c long grain rice (I used parboiled brown rice)
¼ c garbanzo beans, roughly chopped*
¼ c pine nuts, roughly chopped*
1- 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped or 4 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
2 T finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 T crushed dried mint
¼ t ground cinnamon
¼ t ground allspice
1 t dill
Salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, sliced **optional**
3 or 4 cloves garlic
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 t sugar
Juice of 1 lemon or more

*these items were our additions to the original recipe

Notes:
If using grape leaves preserved in brine, to remove salt put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Make sure that the water penetrates well between the layers, and leave them soaking for about twenty minutes, then change the water a time or two using fresh cold water.

If using fresh leaves, plunge a few at a time in boiling water for a few seconds only, until they become limp, and lift them out.

Pour boiling water over the rice and stir well, then rinse with cold water and let drain. (I skipped this step since I had already parboiled and drained the rice)

Mix the rice with the garbanzo beans, pine nuts, chopped tomatoes, onion or scallion, parsley, mint, cinnamon, allspice, dill, salt and pepper to taste.

Place a grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up.

Place about two teaspoons of the filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge. (You may need to adjust this amount depending on the size of your grape leaf.)

Roll the leaf end to end, starting from the stem edge. As you roll, fold the sides of the leaf in toward the center. The leaf should resemble a small cigar, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches long.

Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.

(You can freeze the stuffed grape leaves at this point. Just line a baking sheet with wax paper. When firmly frozen, transfer to an airtight plastic bag place back in the freezer.)

Pack the stuffed leaves tightly in a large pan lined with tomato slices or imperfect grape leaves Place a whole garlic clove in between them for extra flavor. The tightness will help prevent the rolls from unraveling.

Mix together olive oil, 2/3 cup water, sugar and lemon juice and pour over the stuffed leaves. Put a small heat proof plate on top of the leaves to prevent them from unwinding, cover the pan and simmer very gently for about 1 hour, until the rolls are thoroughly cooked, adding water occasionally, a cup at a time, as the liquid in the pan becomes absorbed. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve cold.

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