Stuffed grape leaves are one of those foods I never got around to trying until recently when Mike and I were starving for a quick dinner, came across a Mediterranean cafe, and it was the only menu item that appeared to be gluten-free. I was hooked. And according to Mike, who eats them all the time, the ones at that restaurant weren't even very good.
Where do I go to figure out these ingredients and make stuffed grape leaves on my own? What's in the stuffing? Where do I get grape leaves? First stop, Moosewood. Mollie Katzen has a recipe for a rice pilaf that she uses for stuffing grape leaves, artichokes, and eggplant. (It's also great on its own.) You can buy grape leaves in a jar (I found them at both Whole Foods and Safeway).
Mollie Katzen's Greek Pilaf 1 1/2 cups raw brown rice (long- or short-grained) 2 1/4 cups water 1 to 2 Tbs olive oil 1 1/2 cups mince onion 1 small stalk celery, minced 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds or pine nuts black pepper, to taste 4 to 5 medium cloves garlic, minced 2 Tbs lemon juice 1/4 cup freshly minced parsley 1 Tbs dried mint (or 3 Tbs fresh, minced)
1. Place rice and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until tender (about 40 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small skillet. Add onion, celery, and salt, and saute until the vegetables are tender (5 to 8 minutes). Add sunflower seeds or pine nuts, black pepper, and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes.
3. Stir the sauteed mixture into the cooked rice along with lemon juice and herbs. Mix well.
This rice pilaf is so totally delicious on its own, it's hard not to eat it before you've rolled it all up into the grape leaves. We aren't huge onion fans, so I use about half of what the recipe calls for. Also, Mike has an irrational hatred of celery so I leave it out entirely. I've used pine nuts and haven't tried sunflower seeds yet. I always add salt and pepper to taste at the end when I mix in the herbs rather than saute it with the onion mixture.
I've had trouble with rolling the leaves, but Mike figured it out quickly, so I like to put him to work doing this. Lay out a leaf on your work surface. The leaves should be between 3 and 4 inches wide. Place a spoonful of rice pilaf near the stem end. Fold in the side and roll toward the tip. You can heat these up in the oven for about 20 minutes to warm through (the way I like them) or eat them cold and slimy (the way Mike likes them). I mix a little plain yogurt* with lemon juice for dipping. You can also make a quick tahini-lemon dip that's also tasty with them.
These are also great to make ahead and keep in the fridge for a few days. For storage I drizzled a little olive oil over them to keep them moist.