Stuffed vine leaves.
Stuffed vine leaves. Photo by Limor Laniado
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Limor Laniado Tiroche
Maktuba with stuffed grape leaves. Photo by Limor Laniado Tiroche

Since time immemorial the grapevine has been utilized in every possible way: its fruit eaten as grapes or raisins, processed into wine or fermented into vinegar; and its leaves used to pickle vegetables and wrap grilled fish. Grape leaves have many advantages. They are strong, durable, flexible and have a tart flavor and perfumed aroma.

The notion of stuffing grape leaves with grains and bits of chopped meat apparently occurred first to the Persians. But the Turks, skilled in filling vegetables, were the ones to elevate it to an art form. The Turks grew grapevines on sun-drenched rooftops, thereby also making use of them as a natural pergola. The grape leaves were filled with assorted refreshments and given several names: dolma (fill ), yaprak or yabra (leaf ) and sarma (roll ). The vegetarian version was dubbed yalanchi (fake ).

A vegetarian filling will generally contain rice, pine nuts, spearmint (known in Hebrew as nana ) or dill. A sweeter version will involve rice, onion, spearmint and dried fruit. Vegetarian dolmas are usually served at room temperature with tart yogurt on the side and a glass of arak, as a snack between meals. A meat filling combines ground beef or lamb with rice and pine nuts, and is served with a lemon wedge on the side as a Mediterranean appetizer.

The grapevine blooms in the spring and its leaves are good for stuffing until midsummer. Choose leaves that are as soft, delicate and small as possible, no more than 15 centimeters in diameter, and wash them well to remove any remnants of pesticide.

The difference between fresh and canned leaves is substantial. Canned leaves are large, thick, and have an aftertaste from the pickling. To get rid of this taste you must rinse the leaves thoroughly in cold water and then soak them for several hours in a bowl of cold water. I recommend that you sort through the contents of the jar and select only the smaller leaves.

Grape leaves stuffed with rice, spearmint & dried fruit

Ingredients

100 small fresh grape leaves, well rinsed

For the filling:

1.5 cups rice

2 onions, diced

2 tbsp. oil

1 cup fresh spearmint, chopped

20 dried apricots, finely chopped

1/2 cup dried blueberries

4 tbsp. roasted pine nuts

2 tbsp. pomegranate concentrate

1 tsp. salt

To pad the pot:

2 tbsp. oil

1-2 lemons in their peels, washed with soap and water and sliced into rounds

2-3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced into rounds

10 dried apricots

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

For the sauce:

juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp. tomato paste

2 tbsp. pomegranate concentrate

2 cups boiling water

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 tsp. sugar

1 bay leaf

50 gr. butter, cut into cubes

 

Preparation

Lay the grape leaves in a big bowl. Pour boiling water over them. Wait two minutes, rinse with cold water and drain. Remove the stem with a knife.

Boil a pot of water and cook the rice for seven minutes. Drain.

Fry the diced onions in a frying pan with two tablespoons of oil, until translucent.

Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl.

Pad a lightly greased pot with the lemon slices, and then place the tomato slices on top of them. Place a grape leaf on a cutting board, vein-side up. Fill with about half a tablespoonful of stuffing. Fold inward the edges of the leaf from both sides and roll while tightening in the direction of the top of the leaf.

Pack the stuffed grape leaves tightly in the pot, with the opening face down. Arrange 10 dried apricots and 10 halved cherry tomatoes on top.

Mix the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and pour over the stuffed leaves. Bring the pot to a light boil. Lay a plate upside down on top of the leaves and cover the pot. Cook for 1.5 hours on a low fire. Remove the plate, place the butter cubes on top of the leaves, cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes.

The stuffed leaves are at their best the day after their preparation. Serve lukewarm with tart yogurt.

Grape leaves stuffed with rice & meat

Ingredients

100 small fresh grape leaves, well rinsed

For the filling:

2 onions, chopped

2 tbsp. oil

1 cup basmati or Persian rice

500 gr. ground beef

1 cup spearmint, chopped 3 tbsp. roasted pine nuts

2 tbsp. pomegranate concentrate

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. ground allspice

 

Preparation

Fry the onions in the oil until translucent. Cool.

Mix together the ingredients for the filling. Stuff and cook the grape leaves according to the first recipe.

Makluba with stuffed grape leaves

Ingredients

For 8 servings: 3 tbsp. canola oil

400 gr. pulka (shoulder roast, number 5 at the butcher ), finely diced

300 gr. shpondra (short ribs ), finely diced

1.5 tsp. salt

1.5 tsp. black pepper

2 large onions, sliced into half-circles

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

1.5 tsp. sweet paprika

1.5 tsp. ground allspice

2 tomatoes, diced

50 medium grape leaves or 80 tiny ones (the size of your little finger ), stuffed with uncooked rice and beef

1.5 cups boiling water

2 tbsp. tomato paste

 

Preparation

Heat 1.5 tablespoons of oil in a broad and shallow pot. Stir-fry half of the diced meat over a high fire until browned. Transfer to a dish. Stir-fry (without adding oil ) the remaining half of the meat and transfer to the dish. Season with half the amount of salt and pepper.

In the same pot heat 1.5 tablespoons of oil and fry the onions on a medium fire until softened and lightly browned. Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, paprika and allspice. Fry for two minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, raise the fire a little and continue frying for five minutes. Season with the remaining salt and pepper and add the meat cubes with all the liquid from the dish. Stir and cook for 10 minutes on a medium fire.

Arrange the grape leaves in two tightly packed layers on top of the mixture, cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Add the boiling water mixed with the tomato paste, lay a plate on top of the grape leaves, cover and simmer on a gentle heat for 1.5 hours. Let it sit for several hours or overnight to absorb the flavors.

Remove the plate and reheat. Place a serving platter over the pot, quickly overturn and serve.

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