Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves
I love Mediterranean food! And stuffed vine leaves have always been a favorite. I will order them at any restaurant that has them on the menu- meat stuffed, rice stuffed, all of them! Here is the meat stuffed version. Made traditionally with ground lamb and rice, but you can make them with beef too. Just make sure the meat you select is as lean as possible. I can't stress that enough. 90% lean at least. Otherwise your results will be greasy and not good. I hesitated to learn how to make my own stuffed grape leaves for years, having been given the impression that they are difficult to do. Once I finally did try, I laughed at myself for not having done so sooner. It's great to make your favorites yourself! Here I will take you step by step through the process, and show you how easy it is to roll them up.
1 1/2 lbs. of lean ground lamb or beef
1 cup of uncooked white rice, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt
about 100 vine leaves- You can get these in jars from some stores. You can also use fresh grapevine leaves and prepare them yourself by blanching them first in boiling water to soften them, and then run them under cold water, and they are ready for use.
3/4 cup lemon juice
In a big bowl, combine meat, rice, and spices.
Next you will want to make sure you have a clean space along the counter to be your rolling surface. Using a Tbs. measure, scoop out a Tbs. of meat mixture, and squish it into a stubby cigar shape. Place that along the top of a single vine leaf.
Then you fold the leaf around the meat. Start with the very top, fold it down, and then the sides, fold them in.
Which will start to make it resemble a leaf envelope. (please forgive the ghastly chipped nail polish. It's hard to keep a manicure when you work outside a lot with your hands!)
Then you just roll the top down to the bottom, and that's it!
One stuffed leaf rolled!
Continue to repeat this process. Keeping in mind as you go that not all leaves are going to be suitable for the task. Some will be ripped, or maybe too small, or you may notice a blemish. That's okay- these rejects are still important. Set them aside for lining your cooking pot.
Once all your meat mix is used up, and all your leaves are rolled, take some remaining leaves and create a layer covering the entire bottom of your cooking pot. You want this layer to insulate the rolls, so make it thick. Then start to place your rolls in a layer on top.
It is important to take care to make sure the rolls are placed next to each other tightly enough so they can't come un-rolled during the cooking, but not so tightly that the rice can not expand. It's also a good idea to crisscross your layers. This makes it easier after cooking to take the finished rolls out without them getting stuck in each other.
Take your last remaining leaves and cover the rolls with them like a blanket.
The next step is where I have previously run into trouble. You need to gently weigh down the whole thing while it cooks. Typically you use a plate, invert it, and place that on top. If you do not have a plate that is small enough to fit inside your cooking pot, try the lid of a smaller pot. *Please be warned- if you are reaching for a tea cup plate, or something not designed to be eaten off of, check first that this plate is not glazed with anything that may be harmful to consume. Some dishware that is meant to be decorative can have lead in it.
Here, I am using the lid from my smallest pot to gently press down on the leaf rolls. This prevents them from floating and keeps the rolls rolled.
Pour in the lemon juice, and add water until your leaves are all submerged. You want the water level to come up to the plate. Put a lid on it and bring it to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, and simmer covered for 45 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
This of course requires taste testing! ;)
Finished grape leaves can be gently removed from the pot and served warm, or saved and served cold. These go great with hummus and tabbouleh for a Lebanese themed dinner.