A celebratory recipe. These lamb and rice stuffed grape leaves are different from other recipes. It takes time to prepare and make but oh so worth it. Success factors of this recipe: 1/It does melt in your mouth. 2/ you lost count of how many you ate and open the fridge late at night to get some to eat cold with your fingers. Actually, it can be a great finger food! Serve with lemon wedges and plain yogurt for dipping.
1 16-ounce jar grape leaves. Or 1 pound fresh grape leaves
1 pound minced ground lamb
2 cups Egyptian rice
2 large minced onions
4 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 heads of garlic
Plain yogurt for serving
Put a large saucepan of water on to boil. Remove grape leaves from the jar and unroll. Wash the leaves with clean water. Separate into two piles—one of whole leaves and one with any pieces of leaves. The whole leaves will be used for rolling. Set aside the others for Step 5.
Cook the whole grape leaves in the boiling water for 7 minutes or until its cooked and can be torn easily, make sure to turn it on both sides in water; drain in a colander. If you’re using fresh leaves, wash the leaves and trim off the stems and put it on the side; cook the leaves until it changes its color from dark green to olive oil green and when it can be torn easily.
Wash the rice to get the corn scratch out of it, and drain in a colander.
Filling preparation: Combine onions, oil salt, and pepper in a medium bowl, add the minced lamb then the rice and mix until well combined.
Assembling grape leaves: Prepare your work surface. Place a grape leave on the surface with the stem-side up (the rough side) and stem end pointing toward you. Depending on the size of the leaf, shape 1 to 2 teaspoons of the filling and place it on the leaf, perpendicular to the stem end. Roll the end of the leaf over the filling, tuck in the sides and roll tightly into a cigar shape. Repeat with the remaining grape leaves and filling. You may have filling or grape leaves leftover. But it’s always better to have grape leaves leftover that you can refrigerate for later use.
Place the stems and the torn leftover grape leaves in a large saucepan, covering the bottom completely; this will prevent the stuffed leaves from sticking as they cook. If you don’t have stems, torn or little grape leaves, you may add thick slices of onions or potatoes. Place the stuffed grape leaves in one tight layer in the pan and put some garlic cloves. Make a second layer and do the same. You should have approx 3 to 4 cloves on top of each layer. Shape them into your pan in circles as you go up, working from the outer edge toward the center.
Place the largest heatproof plate you have that will fit in the pot on top of the grape leaves; this will act as a weight to keep the grape leaves submerged. Add water to the pan until it reaches the edge of the plate.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the rice is tender, adding water as necessary to keep the grape leaves submerged, about 1hour and 30 minutes to 2hours. It takes a lot of water to get the grape leaves tender especially if it’s jar leaves. it takes less if it is done with fresh leaves. Never leave it without water as it may get burned. Always watch it and add water as necessary.
To check if the rice is done, carefully remove the plate, take out one stuffed grape leaf using a fork and cut it open. Test the grape leaves and the rice if it’s completely done.
When it’s done, carefully remove the plate, then transfer the grape leaves to a large platter. You can turn it over a platter if it’s not heavy, then take off the stems and onions from the top. Serve warm with lemon wedges and yogurt for dipping, if desired.
Notes: Jars of grape leaves can be found with other Middle Eastern ingredients in supermarkets. If you can only find a 32-ounce jar, you can freeze the leftover leaves in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
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