Grape Leaves…a touch of ethnic deliciousness from different parts of the world – and my love affair with them!

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My love affair with Stuffed Grape Leaves stems from childhood. I grew up in Detroit next door to an Armenian family that made Grape Leaves and their family members in the neighborhood, also made them. The Carmen’s were generous in sharing those tasty rolls with us. I should actually say, ME, as I was the only one adventuresome enough to try the Stuffed Leaves…..
And the love affair began…the minute I tasted them! 

Since that early Armenian culinary experience, I have had many stuffed grapeleaf influences in my life – Chaldean, Lebanese, and Greek – through many close friends and chefs from those cultures…
My own leaves seem to be a combination of the aforementioned ethnic groups and are very much my own. I’ve taken a bit from all I’ve learned and tasted, and have produced a recipe that is a Johnston family favorite. If I don’t come with Stuffed Grape Leaves in hand to give my daughter in the summer, I might as well not show up! These stuffed leaves have not only become a favorite – they are in truth, an act of love.

Making Stuffed Grape Leaves are a lot of work, a real commitment – but worth it!!! I even pick my own leaves – no jars for me! Feel free to use the jarred version if you don’t have the option of fresh. If picking fresh, I suggest you try to keep the leaves same in size – that way no one feels slighted. If not possible – put them in a big bowl or serving platter completed, and let family and guests choose their own – they might want smaller ones!

My husband, David, loves the warm stuffed leaves with a Yogurt Sauce – made of homemade yogurt, cucumber, garlic and green onion. I prefer mine plain. While I generally serve them hot out of the steaming pot, they reheat well being re-steamed or warmed in a microwave. My family (with the exception of me) also eats them cold!!! Stuffed leaves also make a great sandwich rolled in pita or lavash bread (then I add some Hummus!)

Enjoy the project and delicious reward after making Stuffed Grape Leaves – and remember – any ground meat can be used!!

Freshly picked wild grape leaves

Freshly picked wild grape leaves

Leaves cleaned and soaking in water with a bit of lemon juice

Leaves cleaned and soaking in water with a bit of lemon juice

Ground bison

Ground bison

Vegetables sauteed

Vegetables sauteed

Filling ready for the sauteed vegetables that are cooling

Filling ready for the sauteed vegetables that are cooling

All filling ingredients mixed together well

All filling ingredients mixed together well

Bottom of pot prepared with sliced lamb neck bones and slices of onion

Bottom of pot prepared with sliced lamb neck bones and slices of onion

The start of the roll up - filling on inside of grape leaf

The start of the roll up – filling on inside of grape leaf

Pull up edges and begin to roll

Pull up edges and begin to roll

Fold in sides

Fold in sides

Continue to roll until all rolled up

Continue to roll until all rolled up

Grape leaves being laid on top of the neck bones and thick onion slices

Grape leaves being laid on top of the neck bones and thick onion slices

Roll one layer in one direction - place the second layer in the other direction

Roll one layer in one direction – place the second layer in the other direction

Rolled stuffed leaves all in place

Rolled stuffed leaves all in place

An oven proof plate is placed over the completed grape leaves once the lemon juice, water and oil has been added

An oven proof plate is placed over the completed grape leaves once the lemon juice, water and oil has been added

Completed grape leaves - fully cooked!

Completed grape leaves – fully cooked!

Vegetable Bison Stuffed Grape Leaves
Yield: 60-75 stuffed leaves
Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon light olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 large carrots, ends cut, peeled and diced
1/4 head of Savoy cabbage, core removed and finely diced or 1 bunch
of celery – washed, trimmed and finely diced
6 large firm white mushrooms, diced
2 pounds ground bison/buffalo
2 cups natural brown rice, washed well and drained
1 (28 ounce) can seasoned diced tomatoes, drained -Dei Fratelli if
possible
2 1/4 Tablespoons dried mint
1/2 Tablespoon Syrian allspice
1/2 Tablespoon sea salt
1/2 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1-2 jars grape leaves or fresh leaves (60 -75 plus- soaked in water and
lemon juice)
No-stick cooking spray made with canola oil
Lamb neck bones (sliced about 1 1/2 inches thick)
Raw onion sliced (optional)
1 cup lemon juice plus 1/4 cup water plus 1 tablespoon of olive oil
(mixed together for steaming stuffed leaves).

Directions:
In a large skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and minced garlic and sauté until lightly browned (do not burn). Add the diced cabbage and cook for five minutes longer. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté another five minutes.

In a very large bowl, mix the cooked vegetables, raw bison and washed brown rice. To that mixture add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, mint. Syrian allspice, salt (to taste) cumin, cardamom and black pepper – mix well.

If using jarred grape leaves, rinse them thoroughly. If using fresh grape leaves, blanch them in boiling water for two minutes (to wilt) and rinse immediately in cool water for easy handling.

Place the leaves with the stems and veins facing up. Cut the stems off. Place one tablespoon (or more depending on the size of the leaf) of the meat mixture onto the lower center of the leaf. Pull the leaf bottom over the mixture, and roll gently, folding in the sides as you go. (Do not roll too loosely – they should appear firm and neatly rolled.)

Lightly spray no-stick cooking spray in a Dutch oven, copper bottomed pot, casserole, or a large fish poacher. Line pot with lamb neck bones and slices of onion. Arrange the stuffed leaves – going horizontally or vertically in a single layer in the bottom of your cooking pan.

Repeat the process, each layer going in a different direction as the previous layer. Pour the lemon juice, water and oil mixture over the layered, stuffed leaves. Place a plate on top. Lid the pot. Bring to a rapid boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 – 2 plus hours until the stuffed leaves are cooked and the water is almost evaporated. Carefully check one grape leaf to make sure the rice is tender. (remember – brown rice does not have the same texture as white rice and it takes longer to cook).

The cooked Stuffed Grape Leaves can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold!!

A setting of Middle Eastern Food - Grape Leaves included!!

A setting of Middle Eastern Food – Grape Leaves included!!

Close up of grape leaves on  a dinner plate

Close up of grape leaves on a dinner plate

2 Comments

  1. suzi says:

    if one were to omit the bison/meat completely, would you sub mushrooms? what would be best do you think, Ruth? what a great lesson and recipe. i intend to give it my first try and i thank you for the inspiration once again!!

    • RMJ says:

      Suzi – thank you for your comment!! Yes, you can indeed add mushrooms or what ever vegetarian options you would like — chickpeas might be a nice option or lentils. Thanks for following my blog — please pass it along to others.
      Fond regards, RMJ

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