Armenian Stuffed Grape Leaves

8 Jul

grape leavesWe have a bumper crop of grape leaves in our yard, so I just made another batch of these wonderful stuffed grape leaves. The easiest way to tell you about it is to share the post I wrote about them last year for my other food blog, Feed the Spirit. Here it is:

My husband has a wooden swing in the backyard where he likes to hang out on summer afternoons, but it’s right in the sun and can get a little uncomfortable.

To provide some shade, he planted two grapevines next to the swing, one on each side, a couple of years ago, hoping they’d climb up over the swing. I have no idea what kind of grapes they are – one is white, and one is red.

Our grapevine-covered backyard swing.

Our grapevine-covered backyard swing.

Last year we even had two minuscule clusters of grapes, which the birds enjoyed. This year, we had enough to make a couple of pints of grape juice.

But I was also interested in the vines for grape leaves. Living in Detroit, with its large Greek, Chaldean and Arab populations, we’ve been enjoying stuffed grape leaves for decades. They’re often stuffed with lamb, but we eat vegetarian versions. I’ve never made them, but with lush grapevines growing right outside my kitchen window, I thought this was a great time to try.

 

I’d been interested in trying my hand at stuffed grape leaves since last spring, when I participated in a program about food with Jewish and Chaldean (Iraqi Catholic) women. One of the Chaldean women told how almost every cook in her community keeps a large supply of grape leaves on hand.

The women frequently gather in groups to stuff grape leaves, she said, kind of like a Middle Eastern version of a quilting bee.

One family she knows almost got in trouble because of her grape leaves. The family had a house fire, and after the firemen took care of the emergency, they were about to arrest her; they had looked in her freezer, which was full of grape leaves, and thought she was growing marijuana illegally!

Thank you, Joan Nathan!

Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan

What convinced me to finally take action was this video and recipe from Joan Nathan, the doyenne of American Jewish cooking, which showed up in my Facebook feed. Her book, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, is one of my all-time faves.

I followed her recipe and her directions, and the result was dee-lish! As she says, you don’t need to grow your own grapes or raid a neighbor’s vine; jarred grape leaves, available in any Middle Eastern or specialty grocery store, will do equally well.

These Armenian stuffed grape leaves are super-flavorful, with onions, tomatoes, currants and pine nuts, and a variety of seasonings including mint, dill, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.

The filling isn’t hard to make; the only fiddly part of the recipe is actually stuffing and rolling the leaves, which was a little challenging to one used to making the much larger stuffed cabbage rolls. It also takes awhile because you need to prepare the filling, then let it cool, then make the rolls, then cook the rolls.

I took them to a holiday lunch at a friend’s house and they were scarfed up in no time!

Joan suggests trying the same stuffing with chard leaves. We had some chard in our garden, so I made a few that way. The taste was great, but the chard leaves, which are long and thin, were actually harder to roll than the grape leaves.

If you make more than you can eat at once, you can freeze them. Put the extra rolls in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to make sure all the rolls are lightly coated with oil, then place them in a plastic freezer bag. Defrost in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients:

One 15-oz. or 1-lb. jar of grape leaves (about 70 leaves) — or 70 fresh grape leaves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup currants
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup snipped fresh dill
1 Tbs. dried or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 Tbs. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 cup short- or medium-grain rice, uncooked
1 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 cups diced fresh tomatoes or 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, with juices
2 lemons

Directions:

If you use fresh grape leaves, blanch them for 1 minute in boiling water. then drain. If you use jarred, drain the grape leaves, then carefully unwrap each leaf, remove and discard any stems. Put the leaves in a large bowl with water to cover. Let soak while you prepare the filling.

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. 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.

Line the bottom of a heavy 6-quart pot with 10 of the leaves, dull side up.

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. (Editor’s note: I’m sure she means one level measuring-spoon tablespoon; don’t use a soup spoon or you’ll have too much for one leaf. It may be easier to use a teaspoon.) 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.

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.

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.

To freeze: drizzle with olive oil and toss lightly to cover all the stuffed grape leaves with a thin film of oil, then pack into a plastic freezer bag or container.

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