“Rolled” up in memories…

Hi friends and followers!

Sorry I’ve been a bit “M.I.A.”! I’ve been traveling and haven’t had time to figure out what I wanted to blog about next! I recently went to visit one of my good friends who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It has a large Lebanese population there, which means it’s pretty much the Mecca of delicious, fresh and authentic Arabic food. She took me to this new grocery store that opened up in the neighborhood and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen in my life. It was like the Walmart of Middle Eastern food. They had everything I wanted and needed and it was CHEAP. Needless to say, I loaded up and took home more than I expected that day, including a jar of grape leaves.

One of my absolute favorite things growing up has always been stuffed grape leaves. Especially when they were made by my Tata (grandmother). They were a special treat because she lived overseas, so we only got to eat them when she would come visit and be begged to make them. My Tata was a bridal seamstress, so she was very detailed and intricate. She worked so easily with her hands and she would roll the grape leaves so tiny, they were like little cigarettes. I would gobble them up and eat them until I felt sick!

Nowadays you can easily find pre-made stuffed grape leaves usually by the same brands that make hummus. I’ve seen them at salad bars as well. Those types are more “Mediterranean” style and served cold in an olive oil brine. The traditional Palestinian style is served hot in a spiced tomato stew. YUM. So, I’m going to show you how I make them. I am by no means as skilled as my Tata, so even though they weren’t pretty, they still tasted good! Chunk out a good amount of time to prep these…the rolling process is pretty time consuming. This recipe also yields a LOT, so invite friends over when you make it!

The most difficult ingredient to find will be the grape leaves:

Any Middle Eastern market should have them, but I regularly see them at Whole Foods and sometimes in the Ethnic aisles of more Urban supermarkets.

 

Palestinian Style Stuffed Grape Leaves (Serves 6-8)

  • 1 jar grape leaves, in brine
  • 1 lb sirloin steak, or lamb* chopped VERY finely
  • 1 3/4 cups white rice, dry
  • 1 jar tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp Allspice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt to taste

*- Lamb is more authentic, but I used steak. You can also sub 3-5 diced Roma tomatoes for a vegetarian version.

To prep, cube the meat in very tiny pieces.

Add in uncooked rice, salt, 1 tbsp allspice, 1 tbsp tomato paste and enough olive oil to “wet” the mixture. (Usually 1-1 1/2 tbsp). Mix all together.

In a strainer, empty out the grape leaves and lightly rinse the leaves. 

Now comes the fun part! You will need a working station to prepare these. Grab a large pot and line the bottom of it to prevent burning.

Using a plate or a cutting board, lay out one leaf at a time. If any leaves have large holes or rips, they unfortunately cannot be used! If the leaf also has any stem sticking out, have a sharp knife on hand to cut it off. The batch I bought had them removed already. 

The leaves come in all shapes and sizes. My batch had a bunch of smaller leaves, so you just have to be proportional to the amount you stuff it with. The rice will cook and expand, so sometimes less is more so that they don’t rip. I started off with a generous pinch of filling- about 1 tbsp.

Lay the filling horizontally across the center, kind of shaping a tube. (Ignore my OM hands, haha!)

Start by folding up the bottom and tucking the top, so the filling doesn’t spill out. 

Fold one side, then the other and roll up tightly and gently. These babies are delicate! 

Stack them in the pot as you go! (Yah, some of these ripped…what can you do…)

Once all of the grape leaves are rolled up, prep the sauce you will cook them in. In a bowl, put two or three generous spoonfuls of tomato paste into a bowl warm water.

Stir vigorously until blended.

Next, add in the ground allspice and salt.

Once mixed, pour mixture on top of the stuffed leaves. Add in more water to submerge the leaves and place a plate upside-down on the top and put pressure on the leaves. This is so they won’t float around and unravel while cooking. Cover and bring to a boil on medium heat. Once bubbling, bring down the temperature to a very low simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes until the rice is done.

 

As you can see, mine are far from perfect and some of them broke! The rolls on the top will always come apart more than the bottom. Those looked nicer :).

You can squeeze a little bit of lemon on top and serve with pita bread!

I also made Ehdje that night (cauliflower fritters), but that recipe will be for another post!

My roommates Maxwell and Elizabeth and my friend Javier  were subject to helping me eat this feast. There were no complaints!

Anyways, this is a tricky one, but it’s a fun activity to learn something new if you like to experiment in the kitchen!

With happy hearts and happy tum-tums,

Amal

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