Just like most Arab dishes, the way grape leaves are prepared differs not only from one country to another, but also from one household to another. Even the name of the dish is different, as Palestinians and Jordanians call it warak dawali or warak enab (warak is the Arabic word for leaves while dawali is Arabic for grape vine and enab is Arabic for grapes), Syrians call it yabruk (derived from the Turkish name for the dish, yaprak), Iraqis call itdolma (derived from the Turkish word meaning “something stuffed”), and Egyptians call it mahshi (Arabic for stuffed).
Thought to have been originally an Ottoman dish, we find variations of it in Turkey, Greece, Persia, Armenia, the Balkans and even in Vietnam. It mainly consists of grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice, onions, herbs, spices and minced meat, although there are many vegetarian versions of this and it is cooked by either boiling or steaming the leaves. Although this is one of the most labour intensive dishes to make, it is definitely worth all the work. But try not to be sad after your hours of work are gobbled up in minutes! Take it as a compliment.
In most Middle Eastern countries you can find fresh grape leaves sold in almost every shop and even in street markets. However, they are also sold in brine in supermarkets and are easy to find in the West.
This recipe is my family recipe and is considered a Palestinian version of the dish. Feel free to leave out the minced meat and lamb chops if you would like to keep it vegetarian. The dish can be served hot or room temperature, and if you are like me, then straight out of the fridge is delicious too!
Ingredients – Serves 4
To line the pot
- 500g lamb chops (optional)
- 2 medium potatoes (sliced into circles)
- 2 medium tomatoes (roughly chopped)
- Salt and pepper
- A pinch 7 spice
- A pinch dry mint
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 3 cups short grain rice (soaked in warm water for 2 hours)
- 300g minced lamb or beef (optional)
- 2 medium onions (finely chopped)
- 2 medium tomatoes (finely chopped)
- 3 spring onions (finely chopped)
- 2 tbsp. garlic paste
- 3 tbsp. dried mint
- 2 tbsp. 7 spice
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp. ground coriander
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3-4 tbsp. olive oil
- 450g jar of grape leaves
- Juice of 3 large lemons (separated)
- 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 4 tbsp. olive oil
1. To make the filling, use a fork to mix the soaked and drained rice in a large bowl with all the filling ingredients. Using a mashing or stroking motion helps incorporate the minced meat properly. Set aside
2. Line the bottom of the large pot you will be cooking the grape leaves in with the lamb chops if you decide to use them. Sprinkle them with some salt, pepper, 7 spice, and garlic. Top with the sliced potatoes and chopped tomatoes, then sprinkle with additional salt, pepper and 7 spice.
3. Remove the grape leaves from the jar and rinse them to remove residual brine.
4. You can now set up your rolling station. Place the pot and the bowl with the filling near you, along with the grape leaves and something to roll the leaves on. I usually use a cutting board. I also usually set myself up near the television or in front of a laptop because this usually takes at least about an hour to do.
5. To roll the leaves, place one leaf on your rolling surface. Cut off the stem if it is still there, and if you find that the leaf is too big, i.e. bigger than the palm of your hand, then you can cut it in half. Place about a teaspoon and a half of the filling on the part above the stem, then bring together the two sides of the leaf and roll upwards, making sure to tuck in any sides as you roll.
6. Arrange the rolled leaves in the pot on top of the potatoes and tomatoes. Make sure you roll them tightly and that they are lined close to each other so they do not open while being cooked. Make sure the seam side is down to ensure they don’t open. Continue rolling and stacking the leaves until you run out of leaves or stuffing. If you have extra stuffing, you can cook this like you would normal rice.
7. If you are planning to eat this on a later day (it lasts in the fridge for up to two days), cover the pot and refrigerate. If you are eating this straightaway and have used lamb chops on the bottom, then put the pot on a high heat in order to sear the lamb chops on the bottom. Leave for 4-5 minutes. Put a medium sized plate on top of the leaves and push down in order to keep the leaves in place after the stock is added. Make sure it can handle heat. Add the juice of one lemon to the stock, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, and pour just enough stock into the pot to cover the grape leaves. Press down on the plate and bring to the boil. Once the stock boils, reduce the heat to medium-low heat and cover the pot. Let simmer for about an hour and a half, or until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice in the leaves is cooked (you’ll need to taste one).
8. If the rice is cooked but there is too much stock left, increase the heat and uncover the pot until about 85% of the stock is gone. Then, mix together the juice of two lemons with the olive oil and pour over the leaves. Let it cook for about 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the leaves rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
9. To serve, place a large serving platter over the pot and flip it over. Be careful, as there will still be some hot liquid in the pot. Leave the pot upside down for about 10 minutes. If you would like for your leaves to stand like a cake, allow to cool upside down for 20-30 minutes before serving. Once you remove the pan, the meat should be on the top and the leaves on the bottom.
10. Serve with some yogurt, cucumber and yogurt salad, or just a plain green salad. Enjoy!