November 1, 2011

Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves

One of my favorite dishes growing up was Yebra, grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice and cooked with apricots and tamarind. So I was very happy to find another wonderful recipe for grape leaves, this time stuffed with just flavored rice and served cold. It is in Claudia Roden's great book The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York. In it she states that Muslims liked their grape leaves hot and stuffed with ground meat while Jews liked them cold with rice; this certainly wasn't true in my Syrian Jewish family, but I must say I love them cooked with lemon and served cold. The recipe looks like it might be difficult, but aside from the time it takes to roll the leaves, it's fairly simple, and definitely delicious. I made this last weekend for a potluck and it was a great success, with friends eagerly awaiting this recipe.

8 oz grape leaves preserved in brine
1 cup long grained rice
2 medium tomatoes, chopped fine
1 medium onion
2 Tbs chopped mint leaves
2 Tbs chopped parsley
2 Tbs chopped dill or fennel
1/2 teas cinnamon
1/4 teas allspice
salt and pepper
2 Tbs pine nuts (optional)
lettuce leaves or potatoes to line the bottom of the pot
3 or 4 garlic cloves, slivered
2/3 cup olive oil
1 teas sugar
juice of 1 lemon

  • Remove the salt from the grape leaves by rinsing them in cool water.
  • For the stuffing, mix rice with the tomatoes, onion, herbs and spices; add salt and pepper to taste and pine nuts, if using.
  • Line a heavy bottomed saucepan with lettuce leaves or potatoes (that day I used cabbage leaves because I had a cabbage in the fridge). This will keep the stuffed grape leaves from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
  • Put a vine leaf on a flat surface, stem end up. Put a heaping teaspoon of rice – more if the leaf is large – at the top of the leaf. Fold the top parts over the stuffing, then fold the sides over toward the middle. Roll the leaf toward you, not too tight because the rice will swell as it cooks.

  • Place the leaves tightly together in layers in the lined pot, with the ends of the leaves facing down. Put some garlic here and there between them.
  • Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, and sugar with 2 cups of water (Roden says just 2/3 cup water, but I find that's not enough to cook the rice). Put a small plate on top of the leaves so they won't unravel during cooking.
  • Simmer over very low heat, adding more water if necessary. Roden suggests 1 hour cooking time; my mother always cooks grape leaves a very very long time and I like the flavor that comes from long cooking, so I suggest 2 hours, always checking from time to time to be sure there's enough water in the pot. I would check one stuffed leaf after an hour to be sure the rice is cooking. Add more water if it's still hard.
  • Let the grape leaves cool in the pot before turning them onto a platter.
  • Serve cold with lemon wedges.

makes about 25 larger leaves, 40 small ones.


  1. I'm definitely going to try this!

  2. I just love to visit your blog. For me, you are like an old friend. It always interesting to read what you are cooking, planting, painting or hooking!

  3. I have had something similar to this in a restaurant. I don't think I could even find grape leaves around here to try to make them myself. It sounds good though.

  4. Amy, I hope you like it.
    wetoilpaint: thanks so very much!
    Lisa, I think you'd be surprised; my supermarket in rural NH, close to the VT border, carries grape leaves in jars. It's no longer such an esoteric product and markets carry more and more ethnic products. You'd certainly be able to find them at a health food store.