Stuffed grape leaves are one of the oldest recipes still popular today, originating thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent. Each Jewish community around the Middle East has its own variation on these hand-held treats, whether Greek, Iraqi, or Persian. But my absolute favorite version is one I tasted in Jerusalem, in the Armenian Quarter just down the road from David’s Tower inside the entrance to the Old City.
- One 15-ounce or 1-pound jar of grape leaves (about 70 leaves)
- ¼cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3medium onions, chopped
- ⅓cup pine nuts
- ⅓cup currants
- ¾cup chopped parsley
- ¼cup snipped fresh dill
- 1tablespoon dried or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- ½teaspoon cinnamon
- ½teaspoon allspice
- 1teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1tablespoon salt, or to taste
- ½teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1cup short- or medium-grain rice, uncooked
- 1tablespoon sugar
- 1 ½cups diced fresh tomatoes or 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, with juices
Yield: Makes about 60
- Step 1
Drain the grape leaves, then carefully unwrap each leaf, remove and discard any stems, and put the leaves in a large bowl with water to cover. Let soak while you prepare the filling.
- Step 2
Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large covered skillet, and add the onions. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Step 3
Uncover the skillet and sauté for a few more minutes until beginning to turn golden. Add the pine nuts, currants, parsley, dill, mint, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, salt, pepper, rice, 1 cup of water, sugar, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the rice is almost cooked. Remove from heat and stir in the juice of 1 of the lemons, then set aside to cool slightly.
- Step 4
Line the bottom of a heavy 6-quart pot with 10 of the leaves, dull side up.
- Step 5
Put 1 leaf on a flat surface, dull side up, with the stem end toward you. Spoon on 1 tablespoon of filling near the stem end of the leaf and flatten the filling to the width of the leaf. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold the sides into the center and roll away from you. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
- Step 6
Arrange the stuffed grape leaves, seam sides down, in rows along the bottom of the lined pot, then stack them on top of each other. Pour 1 cup of water over the leaves and place a small plate on top to keep the leaves weighted down. Cover the pot and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes more. Allow to cool in the pot, then drain.
- Step 7
Serve warm or at room temperature as an appetizer, sprinkled with the juice of the remaining lemon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If you like, you can also top them with yogurt.
In summer, you can find fresh grape leaves. Blanch them and either use them immediately, or freeze for later use. If you can’t find fresh grape leaves, you can buy brined and bottled grape leaves year round; just be sure to rinse brined leaves in cold water before using.