Stuffed grape leaves are one of my favorite foods. I love them so much that when I was diagnosed with celiac I signed up for a private cooking class with a personal chef, and on the very short menu created just-for-me I asked to learn how to make grape leaves. My fiancé is Assyrian and stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, and even stuffed onions are all part of traditional Assyrian cuisine. The first holiday I spent with his Assyrian side of the family I decided to prepare grape leaves as a contribution to our New Year’s Eve dinner. I had a reliable recipe from my session with the personal chef and I was excited to invite Ben’s family to roll grape leaves with me. Did I mention that none of them like stuffed grape leaves? Well, in fairness, they didn’t mention it to me either!
Don’t worry—they only told me after we had devoured almost all of the ones we made together. They insisted that these stuffed grape leaves were delicious, but agreed that none of them had eaten decent ones before. I knew what they meant. Poorly made versions can be tough, bland, or even sour. Instead, these are savory and a little sweet, and definitely tender.
Here is what you will need. If you’re vegetarian you can just omit the lamb. I promise, I have done this with great success.
½ lb ground lamb
1 large onion, finely chopped
½ cup cooked white rice (do this in advance so it has time to cool)
5 TBSP olive oil
¾ tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
2 TBSP dried currants
2 TBSP pine nuts
1 TBSP each of finely chopped mint, dill, and parsley
2 TBSP tomato sauce or 1 TBSP purée
1 jar of grape leaves (I use Mezzetta brand)
Cook the rice in advance to let it cool. Sauté the onions in olive oil until they are translucent, but not browned. Mix all of the stuffing ingredients and knead for 5 minutes. Take about 2 TBSP of stuffing and roll it into the shape of a small log (this is the right amount for large leaves, but you should adjust if the brand you buy has smaller leaves.) Place the glossy side of the leaf down—this means the back of the leaf should be facing you.
Put the log of stuffing at the bottom of the leaf, next to the stem. Fold in the sides first, then roll toward the tip of the leaf. Place the stuffed grape leaf seam side down in a large pot, with the ends touching to help keep them in place. Once all of your grape leaves are stuffed and in the pot, add 1 cup of water and tomato sauce or purée. The tomato will add flavor to the water, which will season the grape leaves as well. Cover and cook over medium heat for 40 minutes. You want them to simmer but if they come to a rolling boil they will open up and you will unwittingly have soup.
These may be served warm or cold, with tzatziki, yogurt, or lemon juice. If you make your own tzatziki, I recommend grating the cucumber and gently squeezing it to get rid of some of the moisture. To turn this into a meal I served 4-5 grape leaves with a side of rice, tzatziki, carrot sticks, and hummus, and a green salad. If you make this for guests, although you can make them in advance, the scent of them simmering is mouth-watering. Enjoy!