Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Stuffed grape leaves, eat 'em up, yum. (Thanks Christian Kahle for the gorgeous photo!)
We can eat stuffed grape leaves by the fistful around here. Not only are they delicious, but they are also healthful, (potentially) nutritious and a totally satisfying snack. Stuffed grape leaves also travel extremely well—this is important when you live with little people who don’t seem to be able to leave the house without grabbing something to go. There are several local spots that make great leaves (including Sito’s down at the Pittsburgh Public Market, Taza21 and Greek Gourmet in Squirrel Hill), but every now and again it is fun to make your own. Yes, they are a bit of work. In fact, muttering under my breath while detangling the leaves I swore I’d never do it again. However, after tasting the final results, warm out of the pot, I had to snigger at myself as I started to think about where to go the next time for better leaves…
There are many ways to make stuffed grape leaves, a lot depends on the heritage of the recipe and the amount of family pride of the recipe giver. I do not have any ethnic connection to stuffed grape leaves, I doubt very much that my mother has ever made them. I just know what my girls like (I, myself, am a bit easier to please) and this recipe worked well for us.
Makes approximately 30 grape leaf rolls
This wonderful, simple filling was hard to resist (knowing
the rice was only half cooked helped, though...)
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2 yellow onions, small dice (optional—it seems about a 50/50 split when I polled local leaf stuffers)
1 cup uncooked rice (short grain is best, long grain will do)
3 cups water (divided)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (again, optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 jar grape leaves, rinsed well in cold water (if they are tough, they will need to be boiled for 30 minutes)
Juice from 1 lemon
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil and sauté the onions (if using) over medium heat until they are soft and translucent. Add the rice and continue to stir until the rice changes color (it becomes more white, don’t let the rice brown!), cover the pot, turn the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the water, 1 cup water, dill, mint salt and pepper, simmer 5 minutes then allow to cool.

Line the bottom of a heavy pan with a lid with extra grape leaves (and lemon rings, if desired).

To stuff leaves, rinse each well and lay them out in rows and columns. The shiny side of the leaf should be down, the stem side should be facing up toward you. Place one tablespoon of filling in the center of each grape leaf, first folding in the sides, then rolling from the bottom. Be sure to roll each leaf loosely as the rice will expand as it cooks. Layer rolls in the heavy pan; pour remaining 2 cups water, lemon juice and olive oil over top. Add another layer of flat grape leaves to cover and weigh down with a heatproof plate. Cover and simmer approximately 1 ½ hours (you can begin to check after 1 hour—how will you know? You have to try one, of course!)