Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stuffed Grape Leaves

A couple weekends ago Will and I got together with some friends for a Greek feast. We had grilled lamb and vegetables, two kinds of hummus, two other dips that I can't remember their names, stuffed grape leaves and baklava. I volunteered to bring stuffed grape leaves because I figured I should try to make something that would(could) be onionless for Will...and I was clueless how much time it would take to make these things.
I have a friend, Michelle, from waaay back (we met in 1st grade - she was my maid of honor at my wedding) whose mom is Lebanese. She makes the best food. So, I knew exactly who to ask for a good recipe when I was searching for a recipe for stuffed grape leaves. I had her stuffed grape leaves growing up and remembered them being delicious (along with everything else she ever cooked). 
Because her mom makes most of her dishes from memory her ingredients and directions can sometimes be a little vague. So, I've tweaked the recipe just a little to make it more clear for someone who is trying to do this without being able to speak directly with her (or her daughter) for clarifications.
As I mentioned earlier - this recipe took quite a bit of time to prepare. And, while I had anticipated that it was going to be fairly involved, I didn't realize just how much time it would take. I had allotted about 4-5 hours to prepare this dish because I knew I needed to soak the grape leaves for an hour then cook them for an hour at the end. I think if I make it again I'll make the filling the day before then stuff and cook the grape leaves the day I plan to serve them. A couple pairs of hands would also make preparation much quicker - I'll point out specifically where extra hands would have been helpful in red.

Stuffed Grape Leaves
1  large jar or can grape leaves (From Greece or Lebanon)
1 (29 oz.) can Chickpeas
1 bunch of parsley
1 cup burghul wheat
2 cups water
6 green onions (including ends)
2 large diced tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped (2 T dry)
1 ½  tsp salt
½  tsp pepper
1/3 cup lemon juice (or to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Remove grape leaves from jar and soak 1 hr. in bowl of water. Replace water a few times to remove brine. Squeeze excess moisture off each leaf. Dry with a paper towel. Set leaves aside on a plate. (If using fresh leaves, wash them and let them stand in hot water 15 minutes to soften.) 
If you plan on preparing this dish over 2 days wait to do this step until day 2. Also, it takes time and patience to separate and dry the grape leaves, so having an extra pair of hands for this would be helpful.

2. Soak cracked wheat in water in large mixing bowl 5 minutes. Cup in your hand and squeeze out excess water as tight as possible. Set aside.

3. Wash parsley well and drain well. Remove stems and chop very fine. (I usually use kitchen shears.) Add to wheat.

4. Drain Chickpeas and roll each pea between thumb and fingers to remove skin. (It slips off quite easily.) Add to wheat and parsley. This step takes a while simply because you have to remove the skins one by one for every chickpea. Extra hands (even little hands!) would be super helpful here.

5. Chop onions fine and along with remaining ingredients, add to parsley and wheat mixture.

6. Take a leaf and place 1 tsp. (1 Tbsp. if leaf is large.) of mixture in a thin row across width of dull side of leaf with stemmed end closest to you. The shiny side of the leaf must face down to roll well. Fold the outside edges of the leaf 1/2" toward the center (envelope style) and roll firmly into a finger shape. Place in pot, alternating direction of each layer. Do not overfill the leaves - they will fall apart once they are cooked if you do. Having extra help on this step would be an extremely wise decision as this step takes a while.

7. Sprinkle lemon juice on top. Add water to just below top level of rolls. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat. Cover and allow to simmer 1 hour.
As you can see some of my grape leaves were falling apart, but they still tasted good!

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