wara a'anab (stuffed grape leaves)

Salaam alaykum dear readers!

 

Whether you've heard it called stuffed grape leaves, dolmas, mahshi, japrak or sarmale if you've never had this dish you'll want to try it. It's a meal that's popular in several cuisines from around the world.

 

It is a favorite dish that can be made vegetarian or with meat.

A word on the grape leaves - you can either use fresh leaves or jarred ones. I haven't yet had the opportunity to use fresh leaves so can only speak to the jarred leaves. I have tried about three different brands of grape leaves and prefer the Orlando brand grape leaves but you can certainly use whichever brand is available where you are.

You'll be able to find grape leaves in a Mediterranean store / international market or sometimes your local grocery store like Publix, Safeway, Fry's etc will carry them in the international aisle.

The first thing to do is prepare the grape leaves.  Drain the brine from the jar. The leaves will be tightly packed in the jar, usually in two bunches. Gently pull the grape leaves from the jar and place into a large bowl. Use scissors to cut the stems off at the base of the each leaf, discard stems.

Fill the bowl with warm water and gently swish the leaves by pushing the leaves up and down in the bowl several times. Let the leaves sit for a minute, then dump the water. Repeat this two more times with fresh water each time; this is to remove as much of the brine as you can from the leaves.

Drain the water one final time and drape the leaves around the edge of a colander and set aside. I place a large plate under the colander to collect the water that will drain.

The next step is to make your filling which consist of rice, meat, melted butter, olive oil and spices. For the meat you can either use coarsely ground lamb (from the leg) or ground beef no more than 10% fat.

Once your grape leaves are rinsed and the filling is ready, it's time to start rolling the grape leaves. You can either stand and roll them or set up a table and sit and roll them. You'll need:

  • The grape leaves draped on the colander

  • The filling

  • Cutting board (to roll the grape leaves on)

  • Tray (to put the rolled grape leaves in)

  • Small dish of water (to refresh leaves if necessary)

Before you start rolling, if the leaf is too big you can cut it down to size (medium leaves are best) or if too small you can combine two smaller leaves. Also, if your leaf has a tear, use part of another leaf to patch it. Sometimes you will get completely mangled leaves or you'll run out of filling and have leaves left, don't throw them out as you'll use them at the bottom of the pot.

To roll the grape leaves, take a leaf and place it on your cutting board with the vein side up and the stem side nearest to you. If the leaf is dry, dip your fingers in the water and smooth the water over the leaf. Place about 2 teaspoons of filling right above the stem base and even it out lengthwise of the leaf. Fold the bottom of the leaf up and over the filling. Then fold in the right and left side and continue rolling up snugly towards the top of the leaf. As you roll up you may need to continue to tuck the sides in as you go. Set the rolled grape leaf aside in your pan seam side down. Continue rolling until all the filling is finished.

 

Remember the rice is going to expand as it cooks so you don't want the rolls too tight however you also don't want them loose or they will be floppy and too watery inside. Ideal size of the finished rolled grape leaf is about 2 1/2 inches. It will take some practice to get the right size and technique but it's worth it!

Now it's time to cook the grape leaves. If I'm making meat grape leaves then I also like to place meat at the bottom of the pan, this not only adds wonderful flavor to the broth but it's yummy to eat the meat along with the grape leaves. You can use lamb or beef (tender cut of meat). 

I always boil the meat first and skim off the foam that rises to the top.

You can cook the grape leaves in a dutch oven on the stove or in a stainless steel pot. For one jar of grape leaves a 6-quart size pot is good.

Place your pot of the stove, line the bottom of the pot with a layer of grape leaves if you had any leftover. On top of this place sliced tomato and the boiled meat. Drizzle olive oil over the tomato and meat and sprinkle with cinnamon, allspice, salt & black pepper.

Start layering the rolled grape leaves seam side down into the pan. Try to fill as many gaps as possible so they are snug.

Place a small plate inverted over the top of the grape leaves. This will help to weigh them down so they don't float up as they cook. You will then make and pour the broth around the edge of the pot so that it comes up to and slightly over the edge of the plate. If you have any broth left hold on to it as you may need to add more as the rolled grape leaves cook.

Place the lid on the pot and turn it to high heat until it starts to bubble then turn to medium low. Cook for about one hour but check a grape leaf at 45 minutes to see if done. To check it, remove a grape leaf and cut it open on a plate to see if the rice, leaf and meat are cooked. Also check the broth level at around 30 to 40 minutes and if the level has fallen so that the top grape leaves are no longer in broth add more broth. If you don't have any more broth add water.

Once the grape leaves are done, remove from the heat. Carefully remove the inverted plate with tongs or pot holder as it's hot.

 

The traditional way to get the grape leaves out of the pot is to place a large platter on top of the pot and then flip the whole thing over. You'll then have the tomatoes and meat sitting on top of the pile of grape leaves. I'm not that talented so I just remove them carefully one by one with a pair of tongs onto a platter.

Some like to eat the rolled grape leaves and meat with lebne. I do that occasionally for a change. 

Did you make the recipe? Comment below.

Servings: about 5 dozen

Ingredients

For the filling

  • 3/4 pound coarsely ground lamb (from the leg) or ground beef 10% fat

  • 2 cups rice (Egyptian rice preferred) but basmati or jasmine will do

  • Drizzle olive oil

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/2 cup melted butter

  • Drizzle of water

  • 1 (16 oz) jar of grape leaves

For the broth

  • 3 cups of water

  • 2 freshly squeezed medium lemons

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For the bottom of the pot

  • 1 large tomato sliced

  • 1/2 pound boiled meat sliced

Instructions

  1. The first thing to do is prepare the grape leaves.  Drain the brine from the jar. The leaves will be tightly packed in the jar, usually in two bunches. Gently pull the grape leaves from the jar and place into a large bowl. Use scissors to cut the stems off at the base of the each leaf, discard stems.

  2. Fill the bowl with warm water and gently swish the leaves by pushing the leaves up and down in the bowl several times. Let the leaves sit for a minute, then dump the water. Repeat this two more times with fresh water each time; this is to remove as much of the brine as you can from the leaves.

  3. Drain the water one final time and drape the leaves around the edge of a colander and set aside. I place a large plate under the colander to collect the water that will drain.

  4. In a medium bowl combine the ingredients for the filling: rice, drizzle of olive oil, salt, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, drizzle of water, and melted butter. Mix well with a spoon to combine. Then add your ground meat and mix well using your hands. Wash your hands well.  

  5. Roll the grape leaves using the directions in the article above.

  6. Cook the grape leaves using the directions in the article above. Sahten!

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