I’m feeling so Mediterranean today…
Except, I’m cold. Really cold. I had this naive dream that I would come back from Florida and NYC would have embraced the Spring weather just to welcome me… Instead, I came back to a snow storm and freezing temperatures. Damn you, NYC!
And then there was the Daylight Savings that took one hour of my precious sleep. But wait… isn’t Daylight Savings supposed to start in the Spring? It’s still cold outside! Get a grip nature! Or give me my hour back. (Now imagine me walking to my room, slamming the door shut and hiding my face in a pillow!)
But, other than feeling cold and tired because of my lost hour of sleep, I’m indeed feeling Mediterranean. Why? Oh well, because of these delicious Meat & Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves!
Stuffed Grape Leaves are popular in several Mediterranean countries and in the Middle East. It has different names depending on the region. The Greek call it dolmathes and the Egyptian and the Lebanese call it Mahshi Wara’ inab. But you can call it… stuffed grape leaves! It’s okay! lol
Here in NYC this dish is usually attributed to the Greek cuisine. However, I grew up eating the Lebanese version, as the Lebanese culture is really strong in my home country (Brazil).
According to the Greek, they were the ones that brought the Stuffed Grape Leaves to the other regions. They will say that the origin of this dish goes back to the time when Alexander the Great besieged Thebes. Food became so scarce that the Thebans cut what meat they had into little bits and rolled it in grape leaves.
However, you will often meet Turks that are adamant they were the ones that ‘invented the dolma’. They even call it their national dish. Honestly, I have no idea who is right. I could engage in a massive anthropologic research to find out, but, honestly, who cares?!? I prefer to watch the Turks and the Greek fight while eating some of these delicious Meat & Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves. I suggest you do the same… Nothing good will come from fighting Mediterranean blood!
If you ate this dish before, but never made it, you are probably a little intimidated by it. I know I was… But it turns out it is a pretty simple recipe. The only time consuming part is rolling the leaves. It usually takes me one hour to roll them all up! But I highly recommend you make a party out of it and invite some family and friends to help you. Just make sure you wine them for their services! :)
I like to serve my stuffed grape leaves hot. My family always served it with tomato sauce and more rice on the side. (Brazilians love their rice, deal with it!) Also, whenever the grape leaves weren’t available, my grandmother would make Stuffed Cabbage Leaves, but I guess that’s a subject for another post!
You will find many varieties of this dish. The Greek fill it with lamb, rice and sometimes crushed mint, fennel, parsley leaves, garlic, dill or currants, and they often serve it with a sauce called avgolemono. The Lebanese and the Egyptian use beef. In Turkey and Iran their basis is more rice than meat. I’ve also seen versions with raisins, walnuts, pine nuts, tomatoes and vegetarian versions where they omit the meat and fill the leaves only with rice and spices.
Many people serve this dish as an appetizer, as part of the mezes that precede the main course. It is then served cold or at room temperature, daubed with olive oil. Some yogurt based sauce (like tzatziki) and some pita bread on the side and you’re all set to impress!
Rolling the leaves gets easier with practice. By the time you’d be rolling the 5th one you will be a pro! I took some step by step pictures to help you master the art of rolling grape leaves. If you ever win a championship or anything, don’t forget to thank me! ;-)
A few considerations about this recipe:
1) Don’t forget to cut the center stem. Nobody wants to bite into an unpleasant surprise when eating stuffed grape leaves.
2) You can use fresh grape leaves, if you can find them in your grocery store, or the ones that come in jars. Most big grocery stores carry it. If you can’t find it, Amazon sells it here!
3) You can either serve this with tomato sauce as main course or as an appetizer (warm, cold or room temperature) with pita bread and yogurt sauce (just mix greek yogurt with lemon juice, olive oil and salt & pepper).
4) Make sure you don’t roll the leaves too tight cause the rice will expand as it cooks and you don’t want the stuffed leaves to burst.
5) If you’re a vegetarian, just omit the meat. You’ll probably need less grape leaves then. You can also add more spices and even some raisins if that fancies you!
I hope you guys enjoy it! Nothing brings me more pleasure than experiencing other cultures from the comfort of my kitchen. :)
- 50 to 60 grape leaves (fresh or jarred)
- 6 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
- 1.5 lbs ground beef
- 1 cup white basmati rice
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 large onion, cut into large rings
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- ⅓ cup chopped parsley
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- ½ tsp all spice
- ½ tsp cumin
- a pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a skillet, heat 2Tbsp of the olive oil over medium high heat and sauté the chopped onion and garlic until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the spices and let them sweat for a couple more minutes.
- In a large bowl, combine the meat, the rice, the onion mixture and the parsley. Mix everything together with your hands until everything is incorporated. Reserve.
- Drain and rinse the grape leaves.
- Take the stems of every grape leaf and blanch them in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and reserve.
- To roll the grape leaves, place a leaf with the vein side up on your work surface. Add one tablespoon of the filling mixture to the center of the leaf. Fold the edges in and up and roll the grape leaf until it looks like a cigar, tucking the edges under the roll. Proceed with the other leaves until you've run out of filling or leaves. (See blog post for step-by-step pictures!)
- Line a heavy bottomed pot with (unrolled) grape leaves. On top of that, add the onion rings.
- Proceed to arrange the stuffed grape leaves in rows, alternating the direction of each layer of rows.
- Fill the pot with the chicken broth (enough to cover the rolls) and the remaining olive oil.
- Place a plate on the top to prevent the rolls from floating.
- Cover the pot and bring to a boil.
- When it boils, lower the heat to low and cook for 40 minutes, until meat is cooked and rice is tender.
- Remove the rolls from the broth and serve warm or at room temperature.
Just omit the meat for a vegetarian option!
You can also omit the grains and make this paleo friendly.