Old School Middle Eastern Recipes with Some Modern Day Twists

Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves

Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves

Vegetarian stuffed grape leaves, dolma, warak enab or yalanji -whatever you want to call it – are one of the best things to grace any gathering. When the dish is noticed, conversations are paused, eyebrows raise, crowds gather, and suddenly the 80 pieces you made are almost gone. Grape leaves, onions and mini sweet peppers are stuffed with a spiced rice/chickpea/walnut blend and cooked in a tart savory sauce, and typically enjoyed cold or at room temperature. Technically speaking – the squishy interior is the perfect combination of savory flavors, spice, texture and tartness.

I have been rolling grape leaves since I can remember. Whenever my mom, grandma or my aunts would make grape leaves, word would spread, and we would just show up at each others houses to help roll. The most recent occurrence was on July 3rd, in preparation for the 4th of July BBQ (and Jido’s Birthday!). Because, why would you not have grape leaves at a 4th of July BBQ?

This brings me to some childhood memories. During grade school and high school, there would be times when friends would call to hang out, but I had family things – like rolling grape leaves or helping make Arabic cookies (Kakat’ Mahlab) – and would just say I had a family party. It was a party though – drinking chai, telling stories, laughing – and would often go to the late parts of the night. I would not trade these memories for the world! I often tell people I grew up in the kitchen, and this is what I mean. Learning by osmosis.

So, gather up your people, any age is perfect. Put some tea on the stove and start rolling like there is no tomorrow!

Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves (Yalanji)

A spiced rice blend, stuffed in peppers/grape leaves/onions and cooked in a delicious tart and savory sauce. This dish is enjoyed cold and is perfect for mezze or a main dish.
Servings: 80 pieces

Ingredients

  • 1 jar of grape leaves, 16 ounces*
  • 4 onions, kept whole (they will be stuffed)**
  • 15 sweet mini peppers
  • 4 onions chopped
  • 1 cup white basmati rice
  • 1 can chickpeas (15.5 ounce can)
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 bunches parsley, stems removed and chopped
  • 1 cup walnuts, crushed
  • 4 medium sized lemons, juiced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ~2 cups water
  • baharat, to taste***
  • salt, to taste
  • cayenne pepper, to taste

Instructions

Filling

  • In a medium sized pot, saute the onion with 2 tbsp olive oil until it becomes translucent, about 5 minutes
  • To the same pot add rice, chickpeas, crushed walnuts and 1 cup water. Bring liquid to a broil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the rice is almost fully cooked (al dente). Remove from heat.
  • Add baharat, salt, cayenne pepper, parsley, and tomato paste to the rice mixture.

Assembly

  • Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the bottom of a large wide pot.
  • For the onions**:
    Cut away any roots and remove the first layers of the onion. Then slice the onion down one side, almost to the heart.
    In a pot, cover onion with water and simmer on medium -low heat, ~10 minutes, until onions are pliable and each onion petal/layer is able to be removed from each other. Drain and set aside to cool.
  • Once cooled, separate the petals of the onion, one by one. Stuff each petal with ~ 1-2 tbsp of filling and wrap the petal to close.
  • Place stuffed onions at bottom of pot.
  • To stuff mini peppers:
    Slice top of pepper ¾ the way around, see picture. (Keeping the top of the pepper attached will allow the stuffing to remain in the pepper when cooked.)Then, gently core out the seeds within the pepper. Add ~1-2 tbsp of filling until it reaches the top of the pepper.
  • To stuff grape leaves:
    Remove the grape leaves from the jar. Briefly rinse leaves with water, strain off water.
    Gently unroll/unfold leaves and lay flat on a clean surface. The smooth side of the grape leaves should be the side touching the surface, the rougher side will have the filling. If there is a stem on the leaf, use a knife to cut around it to fully remove the stem. If the leaf is large, cut vertically in half, as shown in picture. (The vertical edge will now be the base of the newly sized grape leaf.)
  • Place 1 tsp to 1 tbsp (depending on the size of the leaf) of the stuffing in a log shape toward the bottom of the leaf, near where the stem would attach. Roll the grape leaves by first folding the bottom up, then the right and left sides in then rolling upwards toward the top (see photo), until fully rolled. Do not roll very tightly as the rice will expand when the grape leaves with cooking. Continue to fill and roll each grape leaf this way.
  • Place rolled grape leaves, seam side down, on top of the onions in the pot. Then place the stuffed peppers. Once complete, all the stuffed vegetables and grape leaf rolls will be layered on top of each other. If there are extra unfilled grape leaves(stems removed), place as the last layer on top of the grape leaf rolls.

Cooking

  • Mix lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, olive oil and water in a bowl.
  • Add to the liquid mixture to the pot. The liquid should fill the pot and just cover the grape leaf rolls, if not add a little more water.
  • Put a plate over the grape leaves to create a weight on all the vegetables. Cover pot with lid.
  • Bring liquid in the pot to a boil, then reduce to on med-low temperature for about 1.5 hours. Most of the liquid will be absorbed when cooking is complete.
  • Once cooked, allow to slightly cool, then remove the stuffed grape leaves and vegetables to a serving plate one by one.
  • This dish is meant to be eaten cold or at room temperature. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Notes

* We use the Orlando brand of grape leaves.
** Video tutorial on how to core and peal onions for stuffing is on our Instagram page @threeteaskicthen. It is saved in our stories. 
*** The allspice/baharat, salt and cayenne are to taste. Generally, a generous sprinkle over the rice mixture is good. If you want it more spiced add more bahar. Generally, a light sprinkle over the entire rice mixture is enough salt, but add more or less to your preference. Cayenne is optional, generally a pinch or two should do to provide a subtle heat to the grape leaf rolls. 
Baharat is a Middle Eastern spice blend. It includes a combination of cardamom, allspice, cumin and many more ingredients. Each household has their own twist on the spice mix, but you can also find it in Middle Eastern grocery stores or my Whole Foods also has it on shelves! Allspice can be used as a replacement if you are unable to find Baharat.



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