Thursday, 14 October 2010

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice

Grape leaves cooked with some type of stuffing have been around since antiquity. I guess you could say they were the first sandwich that was invented. I have been eating them and loving them since I was a child, and the recipe here is my maternal grandmother's.

In Greek homes, grape leaves with rice are served cold, usually as a first course or as part of an appetizer menu.

It's always nice to have fresh grape leaves on hand, but they are a luxury item here in the USA because they are not readily available. The solution is to get grape leaves in a jar. These are preserved in a brine solution and need to be thoroughly rinsed in order to remove excess salt. Rinse them several times. When I buy preserved grape leaves I always have my fingers crossed. Sometimes they'll be too tough with lots of veins, sometimes too small, sometimes torn. Of course, sometimes I am lucky and they are just right. 

Ideally, grape leaves should melt in one's mouth as they are being eaten. If they don't, that means they were too tough prior to cooking. One solution for softening them is to cook them in boiling water for about  30 to 40 minutes before stuffing them. If you like making stuffed grape leaves and don't have the fresh ones at hand, experiment with different store bought brands until you find the one that works for you. Even so, boiling the brined variety prior to cooking is recommended. Happy cooking!


1 jar preserved grape leaves, drained
1 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Pepper to taste, and a little salt to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup long grain rice
Juice of 2 
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons dill, chopped
1 teaspoon mint, chopped
2-3 tablespoons currants
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup of water

  • Carefully separate the grape leaves. To remove excess salt, place them in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let the leaves soak for about two hours and change the water a few times. Drain and rinse one last time. To soften them, boil them in water for about 30 to 40 minutes. Cut off the stems and allow the leaves to dry.  
  • In a large saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil, add the onions, garlic and pepper, and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes or until the onions are translucent. 
  • Stir in the rice and saute for about two minutes. Keep mixing so that the rice doesn't burn. Add the green onions and one cup of the vegetable broth  
  • Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook the rice until the broth is absorbed, about 10 minutes or so. The rice will not cook all the way but will finish cooking inside the grape leaves. By following this method the end product will not have a mushy filling. Additionally, as the rice finishes cooking inside the grape leaf it expands, thus creating a firmer and well filled little bundle. 
  • Transfer the rice to a large bowl and mix in the juice of one lemon, parsley, dill, mint, currants, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Don't use too much salt because the grape leaves are already salty.
  • Place one leaf on a flat surface, vein side up, shiny side down. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the centre of the leaf, near the stem edge. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and then roll the leaf with the stuffing to form a nice bundle. You should now have a stuffed grape leaf. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
  • Line the bottom of a heavy saucepan with leftover or torn grape leaves. You can also add any stems that are left over from the herbs used in the recipe. Arrange the bundles seam side down, packing them close together. Layer more bundles on top, keeping the same layering pattern so that the cooking liquid is able to surround them all. 
  • Combine the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, the rest of the broth and the lemon juice. Pour over the stuffed grape leaves. The liquid should just about cover them. Have a cup of water handy to use if more liquid is needed before the cooking time is up. You don't want your bundles to dry up, but you also don't want them swimming in liquid.
  • To keep the bundles from floating around in the liquid add a piece of parchment paper on top and weigh them down with a heatproof plate. 
  • Cover the pan and simmer over "low and slow" heat for about one hour, or until the leaves are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Allow the leaves to cool until they can be handled. Remove them to a container and allow them to chill. In other words, don't let them sit in liquid because the stuffing will become mushy. Some people love grape leaves cooked with extra lemon flavour. I'd advise that you use lemon juice rather than lemon wedges. Don't allow the grape leaves to sit in liquid which has lemon slices added to it because they will absorb the bitter taste which is derived from the pith of the lemon. 
  • Grape leaves stuffed with rice are served cold.