This is my recipe for vegetarian stuffed grapevine leaves, which are perfect feast food. Because I generally make these vine leaves for parties, I triple this recipe and make a big four litre pot of them. Although they are quite a bit of work, you’ll have to trust me that they really are worth it. These are the stuff of legends as far as feast food is concerned. When I’m making them for a party, I always make them the day before and let them cool completely in the pot overnight. Then, when you finally do get to eat them, you’ve hopefully recovered slightly from the pain of assembling dozens and dozens of them.
I’ve adapted my recipe over the years from Tess Mallos’s Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook. Please note the two large onions to one cup of rice is not a typo. That is, in fact, the magic ratio – the onion melts into the rice with flavourful unctuousness and is essential to stop the rice sticking together. I always chop my onions by hand because using a food processor makes them too mushy. There really no getting away from the labour intensity of these things – they come from a culture where you have a whole extended family to help you out in the kitchen.
There are so many different variations on the humble stuffed vine leaf. Tess’s original recipe calls for two tablespoons of finely chopped fresh dill and one teaspoon of all spice. I’ve cut the all spice (because I don’t really keep it on hand), replaced it with sweet paprika and upped the herb quotient with mint, parsley and dill, which for me is pretty much the holy trinity of herbs. The recipe calls for short grain rice. Nowadays, I usually use aborio or sushi rice, both with excellent results. As noted, the ratio of two large onions to rice is essential and please do not skimp on the olive oil. I think I did so once and the results were pretty tragic. Serve with lemon wedges and yoghurt and enjoy! You’ll deserve it.
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 cup of short grain rice (aborio or sushi rice work well)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 currants
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 4 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley, dill and mint
- freshly ground black pepper
- 60 fresh or preserved grape vine leaves
- 2 cups of water
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup of oil
- lemon wedges and yoghurt for serving
- In a pan fry onion gently in olive oil until transparent. Add rice and stir over heat for five minutes. Add pine nuts, currants, sweet paprika, herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook on a gentle heat for five minutes. Remove and leave aside.
- Blanch fresh or preserved vine leaves in boiling water for three minutes, adding them in three lots. As each lot is blanched, remove to a bowl of cold water and drain well.
- Spread a vine leaf on work surface, shiny side down, and place a heaped teaspoon of the rice filling towards the stem end. Roll once, fold in sides and roll into a neat package. Repeat with remaining ingredients. (The amount of filling you place in the vine leaf depends on the size of the leaf. You want the rolls to be firm but not so tightly rolled that when the filling expands it will break the vine leaf).
- Line the base of a heavy pan with four vine leaves and pack rolls folded side down, in closely packed rows. As each row is completed place three thin slices of lemon on top before beginning next row.
- When all rolls are in the pan, top with three lemon slices and cover with remaining vine leaves. Pour two cups of water and the olive oil over the rolls and invert a heavy plate on top to keep the rolls in shape during cooking.
- Bring to a slow simmer, reduce heat, cover pan and simmer gently for 50 minutes. Remove pan from heat and leave until cool.
- Carefully remove rolls to serving dish, discarding lemon slices. Serve at room temperature or cover and chill before serving. Garnish platter with lemon wedges and serve with a bowl of yoghurt.