Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stuffed and Leaving - Grape and Chard Leaves - Daring Cooks

I wonder who first thought of stuffing food into other food. It's brilliant. It's convenient. It's beautiful.
Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
with Rice, Mushrooms, Figs and Pinenuts
Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
At the end of my post, I'll give you the recipes for the fillings that Lori included, but the one I used was my own "follow your tastebuds" kinda deal. Now, if you haven't stuffed grape leaves before, don't squirm or dismiss the idea out right. If you can roll up a towel, you can make this. And if you can't find, or you're not interested in grape leaves, kale or chard work great. This is a fun way to make iron and mineral loaded vegetables even more attractive (including to children.) Words and Research:
Dolma is from the Turkish verb - Dolmak, which means to stuff and is usually referring to any stuffed vegetable like eggplant, cucumber, peppers, etc..
Sarma is from the Turkish verb - Sarmak, which means to wrap and is usually referring to anything wrapped in leaves like grape, lettuces, vine leaves, etc. These words are now often interchangeable depending on the country or area. There are stuffed vegetables and stuffed leaves in many countries from Iran, Turkey, Greece to Southern Asia. Grape leaves can be found in grocery stores with ethnic, especially Mediterranean sections. I was surprised to find out that even in my Whole Foods store right here in Los Angeles, California - I could NOT find them.

I could get already made and stuffed in the canned section, the hot foods section and the chilled sections, but NO leaves. I decided Chard would be fun, and then right there in the produce I spied a table heaped with organic grapes that had many leaves attached. I carefully picked a small bunch that had several good leaves (and ok, maybe I took a few more leaves from the other bunches, but I added them to the bag before being weighed.)
After washing the leaves, I plunged them in boiling water a few times to soften them and I drained them on clean towels. For the Chard (look how beautiful those greens with the purple/red spines look), I plunged the leaves into boiling water once and drained. Handle them carefully, but you can use pieces to repair any torn parts.I wanted a vegan/vegetarian filling that was full of flavor. I chose to use a cup of short grain rice that I covered in boiling water for 30 minutes, then drained.

I added it to a handful of chopped mushrooms, a few dried figs chopped up, a small shallot minced, and a pinch of salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice.

I put all of those in a small skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and heated it on med/high just til everything was warmed up. This helps hold the ingredients together for rolling up in the leaves. I let it cool to slightly warm before using.
Place a spoonful of the filling on the lower part of a leaf. Roll the bottom over the filling, then turn the sides in as you continue rolling the rest of the way up.When the rolls are finished, drizzle olive oil into a skillet and place the filled leaves on top of the oil and separate some of them with a few dried apricots. Cover and heat on Med. for 5-8 minutes until the grape leaves look glossy or sweat a bit.
In a bowl mix together: one cup water with 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Pour the mixture into the skillet with the dolmas, cover and simmer on low for 30-40 minutes. Gently pour the dolmas out onto a platter or very gently scoop them up. These can be served warm, room temp, or chilled. Preserved lemons or yogurt is a great garnish and dip to serve along side.
Recipes given for Dolmas:
Grape Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat and Rice with Apricot Tamarind Sauce/ Yebra
Adapted from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck and Michael J. Cohen. Published by Harper Collins, 2007

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients for hashu/filling:

1 pound (455 gm) ground (minced) beef
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 1/3 oz) (65 gm) short grain rice
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) all spice
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) cinnamon
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) kosher (coarse) salt **if using regular table salt only use ½ tsp.**
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) white pepper
1 onion, chopped **optional**
1 cup (5½ oz) (150 gm) pine nuts **optional**


1.Soak rice in water, enough to cover, for 30 minutes. Combine meat, rice, allspice, vegetable oil, cinnamon, salt, white pepper, and if desired, onion and pine nuts, in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.

Ingredients for assembly:

1 pound (455 gm) hashu/filling (see recipe above)
36 preserved grape leaves, stems trimmed, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
6 dried apricots – or more if you desire
3 tablespoons (45 ml) tamarind concentrate **if you can’t find it, you can omit it**
¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (9 gm) kosher (coarse) salt **if using regular table salt only use 1.5 tsp.**


If using grape leaves preserved in brine, to remove salt put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Make sure that the water penetrates well between the layers, and leave them soaking for about twenty minutes, then change the water a time or two using fresh cold water.

If using fresh leaves, plunge a few at a time in boiling water for a few seconds only, until they become limp, and lift them out.

Tamarind is actually fairly easy to find. There is a paste that is in package already made up. You can find it at Asian, Mexican or Indian grocers. You can also find the pods (a little more difficult) and make it yourself. It is akin to a sweet/tangy tea flavor. If you can’t find it, you can skip the sauce all togheter. The grape leaves will be just as delicious without the sauce. But we hope that those that can find it will use it.


1.Place a grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up. You can trim the little stem if you would like.

2.Place about two teaspoons (10 ml) of the filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge.

3.Roll the leaf end to end, starting from the stem edge. As you roll, fold the sides of the leaf in toward the center. The leaf should resemble a small cigar, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches (50 mm to 65mm) long.

4.Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.

a.(You can freeze the stuffed grape leaves at this point. Just line a baking sheet with wax paper. When firmly frozen, transfer to an airtight plastic bag place back in the freezer.)

5.In a medium saucepan put in the vegetable oil and then place the filled grape leaves in the pot.

6.Place apricots in between the stuffed grape leaves. Cover and cook over low heat for 5- 8 minutes or until the grape leaves begin to sweat.

7.Using all three tablespoons, place a little of the tamarind concentrate, if using, over the rolls.

8.Combine lemon juice, salt, and water then add to pan, filling it ¾ full.

9.Weigh down the grape leaves with a heat proof plate or board to prevent them from unraveling. Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes.

a.Alternatively, place the saucepan in an oven preheated to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 and cook for an hour.

10.Spoon cooking liquid over the grape leaves occasionally. You will know they are done, when the grape leaves are neither soupy nor dry.

11.Tilt pan sideways over serving platter, allowing the grape leaves to tumble out. Try not to handle them individually to reduce unraveling.

a.Alternately you can try spooning them out very gently.


chef_d said...

The swiss chard leaves look great. The red spine makes it more interesting. I loved this challenge as well, great job!

Audax said...

WOW I just love the chad leaves they look so colourful, and it sure sounds like you enjoyed this challenge. The interior of the rolls look magic. Well done. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

Jenni said...

Great job! Your stuffed leaves look wonderful! I had a hard time finding leaves, too, but I just happened to find a jar of them next to the pickles! I never would have thought that is where I would find them!

Jaime and Jen DISH said...

Oh I love, LOVE these, one of my favorites. I've always wanted to know how to make them and now I shall try!!! Thank you for sharing this recipe!


Jaime and Jen Dish

P.S. Where do you buy grape leaves at anyways?

FamilySpice said...

I love how the swiss chard rolls turned out. And I really love the beautiful plate you used!