Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Stuffed Grape Leaves (Warak Enab)

I've had a couple of jars of grape leaves sitting in my pantry for a while now, so I decided to roll them while The Ex is here. My thought was that we could teach our daughter how to roll them and have a feast all at the same time! With the three of us rolling, it took only around 40 minutes or so to roll 2 lbs, which is a record!

Rolling grape leaves is something that you truly need to be shown. You just can't learn to do it by following directions in a book - you need to be able to see what you're supposed to do. Its a delicate business because if you make them too thick, the center will still be crunchy while the outer edges will be soggy. If you roll them too tightly, they will burst once they start cooking. If you roll them too loosely, they won't remain rolled for long and you'll have grape leaf flavored rice and meat soup in the pan. If you pack them too tightly in the pan, they won't cook properly. If you pack them too loosely in the pan, they won't stay rolled and they won't stay submerged which means that they won't cook properly. Like I said, its a delicate business, but one that is very easily learned.

Many, many countries have their version of stuffed grape leaves, though here in America, I think that the Greek style ones are the most well known. Greek ones tend to be fat and squat, and they are usually served at room temperature dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, or dressed with avgolemono sauce. Arabic style grape leaves are always shaped more like your index finger, like a cigar. They are longer and slimmer. They are usually served hot or at room temperature, wrapped in a single thickness of pita and dunked in yogurt. Georgian grape leaves are usually served with sour cream mixed with garlic and salt, or sometimes with melted butter and garlic poured over them.

Personally, I have never met a rolled grape leaf that I didn't like, though I'm partial to the Lebanese style. When I eat traditional Lebanese food, it brings back pleasant memories of sitting around my mother-in-law's table on lazy Sunday afternoons, eating up a storm. My mother-in-law was the best cook in the family, and let me tell you, that is saying something! I loved trying all the exotic Lebanese food she served - at least it was exotic to this little Italo-Acadian girl!

Today is Christmas, and TE and I showed our daughter how to roll grape leaves. She had a taste of a traditional middle eastern meal, something as common as hamburgers are to Americans. Here is how it is done:

The grape leave should be carefully flattened out, with the flat side down. The veins should be on the surface facing you. If there is a small hole or tear, you can patch it with a piece of another grape leaf. Save the torn ones for this purpose.

Form the stuffing into a small log, about the size of your index finger. When you place it on the leaf, you can adjust the length to fit the leaf - a little longer or a little shorter. Make sure that there is enough empty grape leave all around that can be folded in.

If you have ever made a burrito or made a sushi roll, then you will instantly recognize the method of rolling grape leaves. Fold the bottom of the leaf up, fitting it smoothly around the log of stuffing. It can't be too tight or too loose. The one above is perfect.

Fold the sides in, and when you do, smooth the edges around the log of stuffing so that the roll will be neat and well-tucked. Remember to keep from pulling the grape leaf too tightly or the leaf will burst when it cooks.

Now all you have to do is to roll it up like a cigar. There are two tricks to making grape leaves that stay rolled. First, use your index finger to gently stroke the pointy end of the grape leave around the roll, sealing it with your finger. Second, once you are done, give the roll a slight squeeze. Be careful - if you squeeze too hard, you will split the leaf before it even gets cooked!

If there is any stuffing left, you can use it to fill other vegetables or other leaves, like chard or cabbage, but if there is just a little bit left, I usually just make a little ball and cook it with the stuffed leaves.
To pack the leaves into the pot, you should start with a layer of the torn and unrollable grape leaves on the bottom of the pot. I had a lemon that needed to be used, so first I sliced the lemon very, very thinly, laid that all over the bottom of the pot, and then I put a layer of unrolled grape leaves. After that, I began to layer the stuffed grape leaves, alternating the directions with each layer. You cannot pack them too closely together or they won't cook, but you need to allow them to gently touch each other so that they will stay wrapped and in place. Between each layer, sprinkle a little salt, a few cloves of garlic, and a little mint. You can also add some tomato slices between the layers, too.
One the pot is packed, you should place an upside-down plate over the grape leaves, and fill the pot with water and lemon juice until the weight of the water keeps the plate submerged. The plate, in turn, weights the grape leaf rolls down and keeps them submerged in the water.

Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for about 40 minutes, until the leaves and the rice are both tender.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!


Mimi said...

Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Those look very yummy!

vicki said...

Wonderful recipe. You live in Georgia...from California? Me, too. I was reading your artichoke post--do they grow in Georgia? I see so many Lebanese recipes on your website. I love Lebanese food and dearly miss it here in the North Georgia mountains. I'm driving to metro Atlanta with a friend just to have Lebanese food next week.

snowy said...

Denise, I apologise, but I didn't realise you'd edited your posts for me! I had ticked the box that gives further comments by email, and when I didn't see any I assumed you hadn't wanted to discuss it...then today I was looking up your recipe for spinach and lemon risotto which is a real favourite here (made with white wine and parmesan) and saw the edits. Thank you, and excuse me for not saying so before.
(I read your blog on my google reader so don't automatically see previous posts unless I specifically look for them)

Emily said...

These look fantastic! Will you share your recipe for the filling?