Daring Cooks: Stuffed Grape Leaves

First, apologies for my absence: my camera has been broken 😦 It’s still not right after getting a new lens and I’m gonna try another lens before I buy a whole new camera.  Keep your fingers crossed for my little guy.  In the meantime, some pictures below are a little fuzzy but I’ll take what I can get right now!

I recently joined a website called The Daring Kitchen.  Each month a different food blogger “hosts” the challenge and decides what crazy, daring thing everyone will make and post about.  I joined both sections: Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers.  This is my first challenge and I’m so in love with the concept and that each month I’ll have 2 crazy things to make. Love it!!!

Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  They can be found here.

I can never stick to a recipe much like I can’t stay on topic while telling a story. So, as is my way, I made up my own version of stuffed grape leaves.  I wanted to stick with making a meat-filling and a vegetarian one so I went Vietnamese and Greek on this little daring adventure.

Stuffed vegetable leaves show up in cuisines all over the world: Polish, Greek, Iranian, Israeli, Turkish, Vietnamese and many others.  Some use grape leaves, some use cabbage leaves, some stuff other veggies like peppers and zucchini.  Stuffing ingredients are quite varied as well with telltale hints of the originating culture in the spices and other ingredients used.   It’s all yummy in my book.  I don’t know when the mood would have struck me to try making my own stuffed grape leaves (I’ve made stuffed cabbage, peppers, squash… everything but grape leaves) so I was so excited to have a reason to try it out. 

Tom and I have enjoyed grilled stuffed grape leaves at our favorite local Vietnamese restaurants on more than one occasion.  In Vietnamese I’ve seen them called Bo La Nho, Thit Bo Cuon La Luop, Luop, Cha Gio Chay.  I know very few words in Vietnamese so I’m not sure why these are different but if you see stuffed grape leaves on a Vietnamese menu, order them.  They are really tasty.  I decided to recreate the flavor of the ones I’ve had and add rice to the mix.  The list of ingredients is long but these are really easy to make.  You’ll need about 2 hours to roll them all, less if you’re a speed racer.

. . .

Vietnamese Stuffed Grape Leaves

Makes about 60.

 1 jar grape leaves

1  lb ground beef

⅓  cup brown short grain rice (you could use any short grain rice like Arborio)

1  medium onion, diced finely

2  cloves garlic, minced

1  tbl brown sugar

1  tbl fish sauce

1  tbl Sriracha

1  tbl basil, chiffonade

1  tbl mint, chiffonade

1  tbl cilantro, finely chopped

2  tsp ginger, freshly grated

1  tsp salt

1  tsp white pepper

For cooking the stuffed leaves:

I liked the idea from the host’s choice recipe of the apricots and tamarind to cook these.  It’s not traditional for a Vietnamese spin so omit these if you want.

10  dried apricots (optional)

1  tbl tamarind concentrate (optional)

With lots of patience, remove the grape leaves from the jar.  They are rolled and packed in their tightly so it make take a little wriggling to get them out.  If they are in a brine, soak them in boiling water for about 20 minutes.  Then drain and add cool water.  Change the cool water every 10 minutes or so for half an hour.

While the grape leaves are soaking, combine all other ingredients except the ground beef in a large bowl.  Once these are mixed together, add in the in the beef and mix gently until thoroughly combined.  You don’t want to mix it too roughly or tightly compact the filling as it will make it too tough.  Once this filling is mixed and the leaves have soaked, you are ready to roll! (See what I did there?)

I got about 65 good leaves out of one jar.  You will have some smaller ones, some larger ones, and some will be shredded and unusable.  Choose your first specimen and lay it flat on a cutting board or your counter.  The vein side of the leaf should be facing up so that when it’s rolled the pretty, shiny, and flat side is on the outside.  If there is any bit of stem still attached, use a paring knife to remove it.  This will make rolling easier.

 

Place about 1½ tablespoons of filling on the base of the leaf near where the stem was.  You might need to use more or less filling depending on the size of the leaf.  Fold up the bottom of the leaf to cover the filling.  Next, fold in the left and right sides of the leaf towards the center.  Now roll it up like a little cigar and you have your first stuffed grape leaf!

Once you’ve got all your grape leaves stuffed (or you’ve run out of filling, whichever comes first), you can either freeze them at this point or cook them.  If you’re freezing them, place them in a single layer on a sheet pan and freeze for about an hour.  Then place in freezer bags and store until you’re ready to cook them.  To cook them, place a large saucepan on the stove.  Line the pan with the stuffed leaves, flap-side down to help them stay rolled up.  The grape leaves should be packed in tightly.  Cut the apricots in half and stuff the halves in between the grape leaves. 

Cover and begin to cook the grape leaves over low heat.  When they start to “sweat” (about 5 minutes), add in the tamarind concentrate/paste dissolved in about 2 cups of water.  The liquid should come up ¾ of the side of the pan, add more water if necessary.  Place the largest heat-safe plate that will fit inside your pan on top of the grape leaves to keep them from unraveling.  Cook on high heat until the water boils, then turn to low and simmer for about 40 minutes.  Every once in a while, spoon the liquid over the leaves.  They’re done when just about all the water has been absorbed.  Take one out and cut in half if you’re unsure if the rice is cooked through.

 

Using a spoon or tongs, gently remove from the pan, pile up on a plate, and enjoy with your favorite accompaniments (a big salad, maybe some pho).

. . .

If you want to really make these authentic, serve with a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce: Nuoc Cham.  Every Vietnamese family has their own version of nuoc cham.  I’ll give you the ratio we like but adjust it to suit your tastes.

Nuoc Cham

Makes about ¾ cup

2  tbl fish sauce (don’t be scared, it smells fishy but mixed into things it adds an awesome umami component)

2  tbl sugar

2  tbl vinegar

Juice of ½ a lime

¼  cup water

1 clove garlic, minced

1  tsp Sriracha

Mix all ingredients until well combined.  Store in fridge. 

The traditional Vietnamese version of these doesn’t have rice in them and are grilled.  Since I added rice, I cooked them on the stove top but quickly grilled them for the charred marks and flavor.  Serve these with some lettuce leaves to wrap them in (yes it sounds weird to wrap a self-contained food item in something else but the cool crisp lettuce leaf around the hot beef-filled grape leaf is awesome… and traditional), some chopped peanuts, and the Nuoc Cham.

. . .

Aaand another type for my vegetarian friends! I was inspired by the beautiful Greek Isles for this version: feta, Kalamata olives, pistachios, dill.  These are served cold.

Greek-style Stuffed Grape Leaves

Makes about 60

1  jar of grape leaves in brine

1¼  cups long grain white rice

⅓  cup feta cheese

12 kalamata olives, diced

⅓  cup pistachios, shelled and chopped

1  small tomato, chopped finely

1 medium onion, diced finely

1  clove garlic, minced

1  tbl basil, chiffonade

1  tbl mint, chiffonade

2  tsp dill, chopped finely

½  tsp cinnamon

Juice of one lemon

Soak the rice in very hot water for 10 minutes, drain and rinse in cold water.  Mix all other ingredients together and set aside until the rice has soaked.

Lay a grape leaf on a cutting board or your counter.  The vein side of the leaf should be facing up so that when it’s rolled the pretty, shiny, and flat side is on the outside.  If there is any bit of stem still attached, use a paring knife to remove it.  This will make rolling easier.

Place about 1½ tablespoons of filling on the base of the leaf near where the stem was.  You might need to use more or less filling depending on the size of the leaf.  Fold up the bottom of the leaf to cover the filling.  Next, fold in the left and right sides of the leaf towards the center.  Now roll it up like a little cigar.  It’ll be about 2½” wide and 1” in diameter.  

Once you’ve got all your grape leaves stuffed (or you’ve run out of filling, whichever comes first), you can either freeze them at this point or cook them.  If you’re freezing them, place them in a single layer on a sheet pan and freeze for about an hour.  Then place in freezer bags and store until you’re ready to cook them.  To cook them, place a large saucepan on the stove.  Line the pan with the stuffed leaves, flap-side down to help them stay rolled up.  The grape leaves should be packed in tightly. 

Cover and begin to cook the grape leaves over low heat.  When they start to “sweat” (about 5 minutes), add about 2 cups of water.  The liquid should come up ¾ of the side of the pan, add more water if necessary.  Place the largest heat-safe plate that will fit inside your pan on top of the grape leaves to keep them from unraveling.  Cook on high heat until the water boils, then turn to low and simmer for about an hour.  Add in more water every so often as needed (about a cup at a time). They’re done when just about all the water has been absorbed.  Take one out and cut in half if you’re unsure if the rice is cooked through.

Chill in the refrigerator and serve cold alongside a big, fat Greek salad and some warm pita bread.

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This entry was posted in appetizer, beef, Daring Cooks, Daring Kitchen, Greek, main course, Middle Eastern, party, pistachios, side dish, Vegetarian, Vietnamese and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Daring Cooks: Stuffed Grape Leaves

  1. I’ve been thinking about these a bit. As you know, I’m not an overly big fan of whites. However, I think that these (especially, the vegetarian grape leaves) would pair exceptionally well with a dry riesling.

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