13 October 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge: Stuffed Grape Leaves

I've been a little quiet on the Daring Cooks front for the past two months. I actually completed the August Challenge (pierogis), but never got around to posting them. I found them bland and dull and just had no inspiration to write about them. When September rolled around and the challenge was revealed, I was thrilled. And then I realized that all the stores nearby had stopped carrying canning supplies already so I got annoyed and didn't participate. Horrible excuse, I know, but I was lacking inspiration again. 

When the October Challenge was revealed, I knew I couldn’t shirk my responsibilities again. Hubby would not go near the challenge (though when I asked him about it he said he might try it). So I decided if they were going to happen, I’d need to kick him out of the house for the day. And by golly, he kicked himself out and had a Star Wars Marathon over at The Dude’s place. The plan was that they would watch the original cannon and then come back to our place for dinner and Spaceballs.

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.

With Hubby out of the house, I went to work. I piddled a bit on the internet during the process and therefore took longer to soak the leaves than it should have, but overall I’d say it took me a solid three hours to put these little guys together. Since I have so many leftover leaves, I might have to kick Hubby out of the house again sometime soon…

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat and Rice with Apricot Tamarind Sauce/ Yebra
Adapted from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck and Michael J. Cohen. Published by Harper Collins, 2007
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients for hashu/filling:
1 pound (455 gm) ground (minced) beef
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 1/3 oz) (65 gm) short grain rice
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) all spice
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) cinnamon
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) kosher (coarse) salt **if using regular table salt only use ½ tsp.**
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) white pepper
1 onion, chopped **optional**
1 cup (5½ oz) (150 gm) pine nuts **optional**

1.Soak rice in water, enough to cover, for 30 minutes. Combine meat, rice, allspice, vegetable oil, cinnamon, salt, white pepper, and if desired, onion and pine nuts, in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. (I desired both onions and pine nuts.)

Ingredients for assembly:
1 pound (455 gm) hashu/filling (see recipe above)
36 preserved grape leaves, stems trimmed, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
6 dried apricots – or more if you desire
3 tablespoons (45 ml) tamarind concentrate **if you can’t find it, you can omit it**
¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (9 gm) kosher (coarse) salt **if using regular table salt only use 1.5 tsp.**

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.

Tamarind is actually fairly easy to find.  There is a paste that is in package already made up.  You can find it at Asian, Mexican or Indian grocers.  You can also find the pods (a little more difficult) and make it yourself.  It is akin to a sweet/tangy tea flavor. If you can’t find it, you can skip the sauce all together. The grape leaves will be just as delicious without the sauce. But we hope that those that can find it will use it.

1. Place a grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up. You can trim the little stem if you would like.

2. Place about two teaspoons (10 ml) of the filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge.

3. 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 (50 mm to 65mm) long.

4. 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.)

5. In a medium saucepan put in the vegetable oil and then place the filled grape leaves in the pot. (I first lined the pan with the torn grape leaves and a thin sliced potato to prevent the rolls from sticking to the bottom and burning.)

6. Place apricots in between the stuffed grape leaves. Cover and cook over low heat for 5- 8 minutes or until the grape leaves begin to sweat.

7. Using all three tablespoons, place a little of the tamarind concentrate, if using, over the rolls.

8. Combine lemon juice, salt, and water then add to pan, filling it ¾ full.

9. Weigh down the grape leaves with a heat proof plate or board to prevent them from unraveling. (I did not have anything that would fit inside my pan. However, I was able to pack the rolls in tightly enough that I did not need a weight to prevent them from unrolling). Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes. Alternatively, place the saucepan in an oven preheated to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 and cook for an hour.

10. Spoon cooking liquid over the grape leaves occasionally. You will know they are done when the grape leaves are neither soupy nor dry. (I just guessed.)

11. Tilt pan sideways over serving platter, allowing the grape leaves to tumble out. Try not to handle them individually to reduce unraveling. Alternatively, you can try spooning them out very gently.

While time-consuming, these little rolls are quite tasty and make an excellent on-the-go breakfast. Or appetizer, or main meal, whichever you prefer! I found grape leaves fairly easily at the Turkish shop in town, and it only cost 3 euros for a jar (I used about 1 euro worth for this recipe)! The stuffed grape leaves were tastier than I could have imagined! I will not be purchasing pre-made leaves anymore. Ladies and gents, we have a winner!

Of note on my additions: the pine nuts and onions did not mingle well with the rest of the filling, so I was quite worried that it would not turn out well. However, as you can see from the photo below, the onions and pine nuts were incorporated quite well and did not seem out of place. 

Make-more-please: 2 votes
I-told-you-I-might-try-them-not-that-I-would-definitely-try-them: 1 vote


  1. It is great that they worked out so well in the end and so cheap to make great work on the challenge and nice to see you back. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  2. I'm so impressed with your cooking skills. I like stuffed grape leaves ok but not sure that I would take the time to try to do them myself. Yours look good.

  3. Sounds like a success to me! Your rolls look great, and now I'm wondering why my grape leaves were so small. I'm having grape leaf envy...

  4. @ Audax: Thanks!

    @ Aunt Vicki: It's not something I would have tried without being challenged, but it ended up being quite a bit of fun!

    @ Mary: I definitely chose one of the bigger leaves to feature. Some of mine were quite small too, but there seemed to be a variety of sizes in my jar of leaves.

  5. I modified my dolmehs to my hubby's taste! Why do we care so much about what they think?!! Great job!


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