Kitchen Witch - Grape Leaf Group Therapy

Stuffed grape leaves are heady little treats, but we rarely think about making them ourselves. They seem too exotic and complicated for home chow, but what they really need is braun, not brains. There’s not much to the homey meat filling, but you need lots of warm bodies to man the grape leaf assembly line. Get a group of pals together and you can whip up a batch of 50 goodies within 2 hours. Sounds like a party to me. Below, a game plan (take a quick read through the method to gather ingredients for your shopping list):

Lebanese Stuffed Grape LeavesAdapted from Lebanese Cuisine by Madelain Farah

Team A: Grape leaf duty. Carefully separate leaves from one 8-Ounce jar of grape leaves and rinse in a pot of hot (but not boiling) water to dilute the brine in which they have been packed. In batches, drain over a wire rack or on rim of a colander.

Team B: Filling. Rinse 1 cup Egyptian rice (or any short-grain variety) and drain. Place in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 pound ground beef or lamb, 2 diced plum tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon each allspice and cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. With clean hands, mix well, making sure that ingredients are well combined and that meat is broken up.

Everyone: Assembly line. Place leaf, vein-side up, on work surface. Stem should be closest to you. Scoop approximately one teaspoon of filling and place at stem end, allowing it to extend the width of the leaf.

On each side of the leaf, there is an end flap. Place flaps over filling. Tuck sides of leaf, then roll. Alternate tucking flaps with rolling. Do not roll too tightly, or rice will not expand. Seal the parcel by pressing the end with your finger. Stack in a grape leaf-lined pot, in snug rows.

Team C: Eye on the pot. Add water, enough to cover grape leaves about 3/4 high. Scatter 7 cloves of whole, peeled garlic over the leaves. Place a plate on top, one that is small enough to fit inside the pot. Cover and simmer on lowish heat, about 15 minutes. Uncover, remove plate and pour 1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon) over leaves. Return plate and cover, cooking for another 15-20 minutes. Check for doneness of rice by removing one stuffed leaf and slicing in half; rice should be tender and opaque.

Remove pot from heat and transfer leaves to a platter. Pour any remaining cooking liquid over the leaves. Garlic will be soft and mellow and adds to the final dish.

Serve at room temperature. If making in advance, let cool, then refrigerate, until about an hour before serving.

There is enough filling for approximately five dozen grape leaves.

Culinary questions? Reach CL’s Kitchen Witch at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.??