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Stuffed grape leaves are a staple throughout many eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. They are delicious and versatile, can be stuffed with meat or with rice (or other grains), can be served hot or room-temperature, with or without a sauce. There is little you can’t do with this tasty treat!
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I make stuffed grape leaves every year for my husband’s birthday to celebrate his Greek heritage. (OK, I admit that when I’m lazy or pressed for time I buy them ready made.) My husband is a quarter Greek, and he fondly remembers when spending summers with his Grandparents near Thessaloniki, his grandmother would make dolmas and pack them up as travel food. They are a perfect—and deliciously healthy—snack. They also make a great appetizer, or a light lunch.
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My husband is a vegetarian, so for him I always make rice-stuffed grape leaves, which are surprisingly simple. If you can’t find fresh grape leaves to blanch, many specialty food stores offer them pre-blanched and sold in jars. From there it is just a matter of preparing the filling, filling them, lining them in a pot and cooking them. For my part, I have a Greek friend who makes them stuffed with lamb, and they are utterly addictive.
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Stuffed grape leaves go by a lot of different names, depending on where you are traveling. You might hear them called dolmas or dolmades in Greece, tolmas in Armenia, sarmas or dolmas in Turkey, and warak enab (or wara’ enab) in Arabic, just to name a few. We offer a number of itineraries that include cooking classes in which you might learn to prepare the regional variation of stuffed grape leaves, such as any of our cooking vacations in Greece, Turkey, or Israel.
One of our favorite chefs, Chef Katerina of our Greek Cooking Odyssey and our Farm to Beach Getaway in Greece, was kind enough to share her recipe for dolmades with us. They are served warm with a lemon sauce. We hope you enjoy!
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 90 minutes
Cook method: Simmer
1. If using fresh grape leaves, wash them well, then scald them in boiling water and place on a platter to cool
2. Prep the stuffing: sauté the onions in the olive oil for a few minutes over medium heat, then add the ground beef.
3. Rinse and strain the rice, then add it to the beef and onions along with the herbs and salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.
4. Stuff the leaves by placing about a tablespoon of stuffing on the stem end of the leaf, forming it into a cigar-shape. Fold over the stem and the edges, then roll the leave to make a tight bundle. Repeat until all the stuffing has been used.
5. Line the bottom of a put with any remaining grape leaves, leaving a few to cover at the end, then lay the stuffed leaves in circles around the pot. As you fill one level, add a second layer of dolmades over the top. Layer the last grape leaves over the top. Add water (just enough to cover), and place an inverted plate on top to keep the leaves from separating.
6. Simmer over medium low heat for about 90 minutes. Discard the top leaves, then place the dolmades on a platter and serve with the lemon sauce.
7. To make the sauce, beat one egg with the lemon juice and cornstarch until thoroughly combined. Add to a pot and whisk together with the water. Slowly heat the mixture just until hot and thick.
By Peg Kern
Originally published January 13, 2016.
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