No big holiday gathering or pot luck dinner with my family is complete without delicious grape leaves. These amazing little packages of green leaves, beef, and rice take a while to make, but disappear like a flash of lightning in a room full of hungry guests with only a few streaks of cucumber yogurt sauce left after the frenzy.
When I was younger, I used to ask my mother to make grape leaves and within two days we’d finish a giant pot of them. It wasn’t until I was older and I wanted to share my love of grape leaves with my friends, that I asked my mother for the recipe and made a batch on my own. As it turns out, I learned a painful lesson that day. Making grape leaves if you’re not a seasoned pro, is a time consuming affair. They are worth the effort, but after making them myself, I decided that I could never ask my mother to make them for me again without feeling guilty. As it turns out, my guilt lessened a bit when I had the rare opportunity to sit with my mother and grandmother one summer and roll grape leaves with them. For every one grape leaf I rolled, they rolled three. They rolled a whole pot of grape leaves in minutes when it would have taken me three times as long on my own. Please don’t let that discourage you because with a little practice and less clumsy hands like mine, making grape leaves isn’t very hard at all as long as you keep it simple. You can also make smaller batches or make a ton of them and freeze them in a freezer bag for later use.
With that said, I’m about to lay down some truths for you all right now. This is one of the best grape leaf recipes you will ever see or try. The key is the simplicity of the ingredients and the fact that they aren’t over-spiced, vegetarian, or served cold. It’s an unfortunate fact that there are some terrible grape leaves out there in the world. There are vegetarian grape leaves, which are sometimes edible if made fresh and served hot, but more often than not they’re served cold, loosely wrapped, slimy, and often from a can. A can! 90% of the time, grape leaves found at restaurants are vegetarian and from a can. I almost never order them out and I always ask if they are made in-house. I can’t blame anyone who has tried these horrors from never trying grape leaves again. If this has happened to you, I urge you to subdue your gag reflex and give these grape leaves a try. You won’t be disappointed and you will go back for seconds.
Makes about 65 grape leaves at 26- 23 calories each (using 85/15 or 90/10 beef).
Egyptian Stuffed Grape Leaves with Meat and Rice
Rolled, stuffed grapeleaves with meat and rice.
- 1 Large (16 oz.) jar of grape leaves soaked in water (about 5 cal per leaf)
- 1 pound of 85/15 or 90/10 ground beef (about 240 – 200 cal per 4 oz. respectively or 960 – 800 cal total)
- 1/2 cup of dry white rice (about 300 cal)
- 1/3 cup diced onion (about 40 cal)
- 32 oz. of low sodium chicken broth (about 20 cal.)
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 or 2 limes squeezed for juice (about 10 – 20 cal)
- 12 – 16 garlic cloves (about 36 – 48 cal, but you don’t eat the garlic, so we won’t really count these)
- Optional: 1 tomato to line the bottom of the pot
- Large plate
- 1 Large mixing bowl
- 1 Large tupperware container
- Wide shallow bowl
- Large pot with a lid
- First, drain the water from the jar of grape leaves and empty out the leaves into a large tupperware container or bowl. Fill the container with water and start to unravel the leaves carefully. Once unraveled, dump the water, and refill the bowl with fresh water to rinse the leaves. Let them sit this way until you’re ready to use them.
- Roughly dice up half a large onion so that you have a 1/2 cups worth (that’s more than a 1/2 cup pictured below!).
- Place the one pound of ground beef into a large bowl.
- Add in the rice, onion, salt and pepper to the beef.
- Using your hands (wear latex gloves if you like) mix the ingredients together. Once the ingredients are well incorporated, you might feel like you can’t see much of the rice at all, but that’s normal. The rice will expand when it cooks, so you don’t want to see it right now at this stage.
- Sift through the soaking grape leaves and find a few leaves that aren’t ideal (maybe 3-5 leaves). Leaves that aren’t ideal are ones that are really large and veiny (that means they’ll probably make for tougher leaves), leaves that are far smaller than the rest of the bunch, or leaves that are torn. Place those leaves at the bottom of the pot to line it. In addition to lining the pot with leaves, you can also line the pot with a few tomato slices or even slices of onion or all of the above. This keeps the grape leaves from touching the bottom of the pot, but it also adds aroma.
- On a large plate, lay down a grape leaf and open it flat.
- If the leaf is especially large (like the one above where it takes up most of the plate), cut it in half. You don’t have to do this, but I find that the best grape leaves aren’t too large and aren’t too small.
- Place a small amount of the beef mixture on the part of the leaf closest to you (a heaping tablespoon is about right).
- Wrap the beef mixture by rolling up the bottom of the leaf (closest to you) over the meat, then just as you cover the meat, fold the right and left sides in towards the center before completing the roll. You want to end up with a tightly wrapped, neat little meat packet. Then place the rolled grape leaf into the bottom of the pot you lined earlier.
- Repeat the rolling process until you have one layer deep of rolled grape leaves. At this point, take 4 – 6 cloves of garlic, cut them in half or thirds and spread them out over this level of grape leaves. Repeat this process until you have finished all of the leaves or all of the filling (you may finish one before the other).
- It’s fairly common to finish the leaves before finishing all of the meat mixture. If you have a little bit of meat left over, then just roll it into balls and place them on top of the grape leaves. They make for an interesting and tasty variation.
- Pour the chicken broth over the grape leaves and carefully place a wide shallow bowl on top of the grape leaves to keep them from floating up during the cooking process.
- Cover the pot and bring the broth to a boil. Once boiling, lower the stovetop heat to low or simmer and let the pot simmer for at least an hour, but 2 is ideal.
- After the grape leaves finish cooking for 1 – 2 hours, turn off the heat and immediately squeeze one or two limes over the grape leaves (no need to mix the pot). The finished grape leaves will look darker after they are cooked.
- Serve the grape leaves immediately while they’re hot and pair with cucumber yogurt sauce (tzatziki) for maximum impact.
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