In the world of cooking, nothing is ever absolute! We each bring to it our own personality, our own taste, and our own imagination.
In all recipes, especially the old traditional ones, you will never get two families to agree on the same version. Adding an ingredient, taking away one, you will often be told that their particular version is the absolute best. Not to mention the one & only; the “original” one.
When it comes to giant classics, like stuffed grape leaves, the issue becomes slightly more involved to say the least. We’re not only talking about the various variations of a dish between families, we’re now also involving countries!!! A whole region as a matter of fact: the entire Middle East region, stretching to include its close neighbours as well!!!
Which version should we make? the Egyptian? the Syrio-Lebanese? or maybe the Greek version? but which part of Greece? or should we make the Turkish version? … and that’s just to name a humble few.
Being that I come from Egypt, logic says that I should present the Egyptian version here. But in all honesty I much prefer the Syrio/Lebanese one!!!! Having said that, I know that I am now treading into even thinner water, because after so many years in the kitchen, I kind of made my own version of the dish!
I love food! I love eating it! and I especially love creating it!
300-350 grs jar of grape leaves
3 large lemons sliced
8-12 cloves of garlic
1kg ground beef
1 handful of rice
1 large grated onion
salt & pepper
1/2 kg of lamb (breast w/bone)
salt & pepper
Get your broth started before doing the other preparations. You will need it to simmer for one to one & a half hours at least, in order to get the all-important lamb flavour well on its way.
Drain it, and reserve the liquid. Keep the meat on the side.
Rinse the grape leaves well under running water, then separate by placing the individual leaves on the edge of a few trays (as in picture). It just makes it easier to grab when you’re stuffing.
If there are any broken leaves, or leaves that are too small to stuff, keep them aside, you will use them to line up your cooking pan.
Mix the ingredients of the stuffing together, and moisten with a cup or two from your broth
Now you can start the tedious part!
Place the leaf flat on your working surface
snip off the stem (if any) with scissors
place a bit of stuffing and roll
it is very difficult to describe, so please follow the pictures. And remember: be patient…
I just place the stuffed ones on the counter as I proceed
Line your pan with the broken unwanted leaves
Place ½ of the lemon slices on top of that
Throw in ½ of the garlic cloves
Now you can start placing your rolled grape leaves in the pan, close to one another, and in a neat pattern
keep going up with the rows until you’ve placed all your grape leaves
now arrange the reserved lamb pieces on top
place the other half of the lemon slices
throw in the other half of the garlic cloves
place a flat plate on the surface to keep the whole thing in place
add the lamb broth, cover the pan, and simmer for a s long as needed. You will probably need to add more liquid as you go along.
The length of cooking very much depends on the quality of the grape leaves you started with. Some brand names are softer than others, and therefore cook faster. You will just have to experiment until you find the brand that suits you best. As a general rule, I would say the minimum cooking time is a couple of hours. You just have to keep tasting for done-ness.
When it is ready, remove the lamb pieces into a separate dish, and drain whatever remaining liquid in the pan. Make sure you leave the flat dish that you cooked it with, as is, on top.
Place your serving dish on top of the pan, hold it and the pan securely with your two hands, and turn it quickly
now the bottom of your pan is on top. Remove the broken leaves you lined up your pan with, remove the lemon slices and the garlic cloves.
Your can serve with a light yoghurt, cucumber, and mint flavored salad.