Another day, another recipe. There was so much good food at our Mediterranean picnic that it’s taking me a few days to get it all out to you guys. Stuffed grape leaves are my absolute favorite of all the Mediterranean menu items.
When I first started researching making them at home I thought it seemed pretty simple. In making them, I discovered that it was a little more complicated than I originally expected, but the end result was totally worth it, and I’m already looking forward to making them again.
How to Make Stuffed Grape Leaves
The fillings for these grape leaves are totally customizable to your preference in ingredients and flavors.
1 jar brined grape leaves (usually 40+)
1 medium onion, diced
3/4 cup dry long grain brown rice
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup raisins
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
To Prepare: Start by sautéing the onion in a little bit of olive oil until soft and browned.
While the onions cook, chop all of the fresh herbs – parsley, mint, and dill.
Once the onions are ready, add the dry rice, almonds, and raisins to the pot and stir to combine.
Add the fresh herbs and mix in thoroughly. Then add the 1/4 cup lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a few glugs of olive oil.
The mixture is actually going to cook IN the grape leaves, so it is important to get the seasoning right before you finish cooking the rice. It’s a little tricky to taste the filling with the rice being crunchy, but do your best to take a small taste and make sure the flavor seems right. Then set the mixture aside in a small bowl and allow to cool.
In the meantime, you need to do a little prep work on the grape leaves.
Bring a pot of water up to a boil, and while you wait, carefully rinse the bunch of grape leaves under cool water to remove some of the brine liquid. Once the water boils, drop the bunch of leaves into the boiling water and blanch them for 3-5 minutes. This will make them much softer and easier to roll! They should start to separate from each other a bit in the water.
Using a pair of tongs, carefully remove the grape leaves from the boiling water and set aside on a plate. Carefully pat dry with a towel.
Now comes the fun part – time to STUFF! Take a leaf and lay it out on the cutting board in front of you. (If there is a little stem protruding from the bottom, make sure to cut it off – mine didn’t have any but others do.) Make sure the raised veins are facing up towards you.
Then add a small spoonful of the filling to the center, right where the bottom “legs” of the leaf meet in the middle at the base. The filling is going to expand when it cooks, so make sure not to overfill or the leaf will bust, which is not what we want.
Carefully roll the right side of the leaf up from the bottom towards the middle…
Followed by the left side so that the bottom overlaps and there is no hole for the filling to escape from!
Then moving up the leaf, fold the right side in towards the middle so that it forms a flat edge, followed by the left side…
Then carefully roll the entire leaf from the bottom towards the top until the rest of the leaf is sealed – viola! The filling was enough for about 40 grape leaves total.
Place the leaves seam side DOWN in a big pot that has a lid. Try to get them as close together as possible. As you can see from mine, they were not uniform at all, ranging in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It can be a little tricky at first, so just do your best. I thought the different sizes gave it more character. :)
Once they are all rolled up, add enough water to the pan to cover the grape leaves about 3/4 of the way to the top. Drizzle a few extra glugs of olive oil along the top of the leaves, and then cover and bring up to a simmer.
Keep the pot covered and allow them to simmer for 1 hour. Check them after an hour and test to see that the rice is cooked inside. When all the filling is cooked through, carefully remove the rolls with tongs and set aside to cool slightly before eating.
Grape leaves are delicious both hot AND cold, and they will keep well in the refrigerator for at least a week. In fact I think they just get better with time!
Stuffed grape leaves are great because they are SO versatile. They can be used as an appetizer, a side dish, as part of a tasting plate, or taken on a picnic!
The filling can be adjusted to include so many different things. A lot of traditional stuffed grape leaves include pine nuts, but I chose to sub with my favorite – sliced almonds. Many traditional recipes also include chunks of lamb, but clearly we are leaving that one out here. :)
From start to finish, these probably took me about 2 hours. But I pulled up a chair, turned up the Glee soundtrack, and enjoyed a few peaceful hours in the kitchen on a Sunday morning. The end result was more than worth the wait. The next time you find yourself craving delicious Mediterranean stuffed grape leaves, consider making your own!