Stuffed grape leaves

I have an irrational antagonism to Mediterranean food. I know why, but it doesn't help. It's negative conditioning. Similarly to Pavlov's dogs, which is classical conditioning, but the opposite. Hey, look at that - that psychology degree came in handy, at least to diagnose my pathology, even if I can't actually do anything about it.

So here's the thing. Everything about Middle Eastern or Greek food reminds me of nights on call at a small private hospital in Los Angeles, when the attendings would pick up Zankou Chicken (which took a little Google search to return to my memory) and eat together in the doctors' lounge. Sometimes we residents were invited to join in, sometimes we just had to smell it during or after the meal, while we prepared for C-sections or reviewed cases with the attendings. These nights on call were not, let's say, the highlight of my residency years. In fact, I should stop now, as my stomach is beginning to churn just thinking about the experience. Let me share one anecdote from those years, which doesn't make me ill anymore. Let me preface this by saying that we always assisted on C-sections, but there would frequently be 3 doctors scrubbed in, the primary OB, the resident, and a second attending who would do nothing but regale us with tales of his youth. Some might call this insurance fraud, but I wouldn't dare go there.

Anyway, this is said to explain why there were 2 of us (in other words, enough doctors to perform a Cesarean delivery) waiting for one of the primary OBs to come in for a repeat Cesarean delivery. The OB on-call and I were told that the primary OB was driving in from Malibu (45 minutes away) and when he got there we could start. We took the patient to the operating room, and the primary at last arrived and met us in the OR. He leaned over to us and told us that he might need a bit of assistance on the C/S, as he had just been in Malibu having his eyes dilated. Yes, he made us (particularly the patient) wait and then drove across town in order to be able to bill insurance for the C/S, although he was physically incapable of performing said C/S.

And that is why I don't like Middle Eastern food.

So when the monthly DK challenge was announced, I was cautious. I read the summary - no nausea. I reviewed people's comments and suggestions - still keeping my lunch down. I decided it was safe to proceed, and then I got pretty excited by some of the recipes. I headed down to Central Market (we were in the big city for the weekend) and picked up the more exotic ingredients (e.g. grape leaves, pomegranate molasses, sumac), then spent the next evening mixing, soaking, draining, rolling, boiling, and eating. The final product was much tangier than I anticipated, presumably due to the apricot tamarind sauce. That was my favoritest part. While it was a surprise upon the first bite, it quickly became extremely addictive and I found myself popping more and more of these little delicacies into my mouth. Joe liked 'em too but I don't think he was as obsessed as I was. We had a bazillion of the little buggers (around 100 in total) so I brought a bunch to work, and one of the sonographers up here was just a bit obsessed as well, so she brought a slew home for a family feast too.

I'm definitely going to give this thing another go in the future... it's a first step toward overcoming a phobia...

There's one DK participant who always wows us by completing the challenge hours after it's posted, and then submitting any number of variations and suggestions. The variation he posted looked so darn good that I decided to try it out as my recipe of choice, preparing the grape leaves (or Dolmades) per his recipe (except for the lamb stock - I used homemade beef stock) then using the apricot glaze from the DK posted recipe.

Blog-checking lines: Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Ground Lamb and Rice with Apricot Tamarind Sauce/ Yebra

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 jars preserved grape (vine) leaves, soaked in hot water 30 minutes and rinsed in fresh cold water several times (I had about 50 leaves per jar)

Meat and rice filling
1 lb (455 gm) minced lamb
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2⅓ oz) (65 gm) Arborio rice, soaked in hot (no salt) lamb stock for 30 minutes
100 gm (3½ oz) feta (Greek-style) cheese, finely crumbed
¼ cup (60 ml) (1½ oz) (45 gm) currants
20 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped; reserve 3 tablespoons of the oil
¼ cup (60 ml) (1⅓ oz) (40 gm) pistachios, toasted and chopped
1 preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind finely chopped
½ cup mint leaves, finely chopped, reserve the stems
½ cup dill tips, finely chopped, reserve the stems
½ cup parsley leaves, finely chopped, reserve the stems
½ cup green onions (scallions), finely chopped
½ cup tarragon, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
12 olives, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 Tablespoon sumac
2 teaspoons cinnamon, freshly ground
2 teaspoons pepper, freshly cracked
1½ teaspoon allspice

Mix it all together in a large bowl. I used my hands.

Place a grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up. You can trim the little stem if you would like.

Place about two teaspoons (10 ml) of the filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge.

Roll the leaf end to end, starting from the stem edge. As you roll, fold the sides of the leaf in toward the center. The leaf should resemble a small cigar, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches (50 mm to 65mm) long.

Action shot!

Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.

You can freeze the stuffed grape leaves at this point. Just line a baking sheet with wax paper. When firmly frozen, transfer to an airtight plastic bag place back in the freezer.

Line a medium saucepan with broken grape leaves, stems from fresh herbs, stock bones (if available). Addthe vegetable oil and then place the filled grape leaves in the pot.

Place apricots in between the stuffed grape leaves. Cover and cook over low heat for 5- 8 minutes or until the grape leaves begin to sweat.

Pour the tamarind concentrate over the rolls.

Combine lemon juice, salt, and water then add to pan, filling it to just below the top layer of dolmades.

Weigh down the grape leaves with a heat proof plate or board to prevent them from unraveling.

Double duty for the 'pizza stone' unglazed tiles!!

Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes.
Spoon cooking liquid over the grape leaves occasionally. You will know they are done when the grape leaves are neither soupy nor dry.

Tilt pan sideways over serving platter, allowing the grape leaves to tumble out. Try not to handle them individually to reduce unraveling. Alternately you can try spooning them out very gently.

Another (simpler) option for the stuffing (which I haven't tried but I'm sure is delicious) was:

1 pound (455 gm) ground (minced) beef
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 1/3 oz) (65 gm) short grain rice
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) all spice
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) cinnamon
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) kosher (coarse) salt
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) white pepper
1 onion, chopped [optional]
1 cup (5½ oz) (150 gm) pine nuts [optional]


  1. umm you didnt finish the story..did he freaking do the c/s? I sure hope you said umm no way!

  2. That is an 'interesting' story a real worry. I'm so glad that you liked the recipe I posted in the forum and the kind words. Lovely work and it is clear that you enjoyed it so much and you are over your phobia. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  3. Mmmmmm, love stuffed graped leaves & your story!!

    I have a new Giveaway from Metis Linens, do come and enter!!

    Art by Karena


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