Stuffed grape leaves is a dish that my grandmother “Lulu” and her sister “Aunt Mary” would spend lovingly preparing all day in the kitchen. When accompanying them on shopping trips, the grape leaves would come from one store and the lamb or ground chuck would come from another store. They would “store hop” just to find the “best meat.” In the 70’s and early 80’s, Saint Petersburg, Florida had the best little food shops to buy these ingredients. I have fond memories of going into “Fonte’s Finer Foods” with my grandmother scouring for the best looking (less stringy) grape leaves. Another store that Aunt Mary and Lulu loved was Fridelli’s (not sure of the spelling). Mazzaro’s Italian Market replaced Fridelli’s years ago but today, offers wonderful gourmet foods, wine, and coffees. http://www.mazzarosmarket.com/
Here is what you’ll need for the recipe: As always, double up on all ingredients when cooking for lots of people!
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup onion
1 pound lean ground lamb or 1 pound ground chuck. (We usually used 1/2 lamb and 1/2 ground chuck).
1/2 cup raw white rice
2 Tbls. pine nuts (optional)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 – 16 ounce jar grape leaves (in which you will drain).
3 Tbls. lemon juice
2 Tbls. olive oil
- Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a skillet, sauté onion stirring until golden – 5 minutes. Add lamb/beef; cook, stirring until meat is no longer pink – 10 minutes. Add rice, pine nuts, salt, pepper and 3/4 cup water. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes, until water is absorbed.
- Remove from heat. Turn into bowl to cool for 30 minutes before stuffing the grape leaves. Meanwhile, separate grape leaves. Rinse each leaf well in cold water to wash away any brine. Dry well on paper towels. Cut off any straggler strings on the leaves. Use imperfect leaves for layering evenly in the bottom of the skillet. (This is the most time consuming aspect of this recipe. Please take time cutting the strings and finding the best leaves to work with).
- Lay leaves with the shiny side down on a flat surface. Put 1 tablespoon or more (depending on the size of the leaf) of the meat mixture in the center of each leaf; fold sides over filling; roll up, starting from narrow end. Do not roll too tightly; rice needs room to expand. Fill skillet with closely fitted layers of stuffed leaves.
- Pour lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 cup cold water over them. Put heavy plat, upside down, on top to prevent leaves from unrolling. Bring to boiling; simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed – 30 minutes.
- With slotted utensil, lift out of liquid onto serving plate.
We would eat the grape leaves topped with extra salt, lemon juice, or extra olive oil. Aunt Mary and Lulu would order Syrian bread (basically pita bread but better!) from Fattal’s located in Paterson, NJ. http://www.fattals.com/
The only store that I have found that sells the closest thing to the Syrian bread from Fattal’s is called the Cedar Market in Saint Petersburg, FL. It’s not pre-packaged bread but the bread in the plain bags on the shelves right when you walk in the door. Call beforehand to see when their shipments are. They run out of this bread quickly!
You can also eat with calamari olives, hummus tahini, labneh, or tabouleh.
Here are two pictures I found without digging through all of my pictures packed away in the basement. Not the best quality but never the less, it is Lulu and Aunt Mary. (Lulu has black hair, Aunt Mary has brown hair).