As an ingredient, grape leaves have a long culinary history and a variety of (delicious) usages, but our family’s affinity for the grape leaf has more to do with personal memories than anything else. The story goes like this. Well, one of the stories anyway…
“My grandmother knew a spot off the side of the freeway where grapevines grew wild in Detroit, Michigan,” recalls Stephen. “As kids, my grandparents would drop us off and have us pick the grape leaves. My grandmother had a green thumb, so she took a cutting from one of the vines, got it to root and then planted it. Within a year, after moving to their new house, my grandparents had a grapevine growing on an acre of land alongside over a hundred other plants—tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants…”
There are also restaurant stories—(true) tales of women who rolled upwards of 6,000 Vegetarian and Lamb Stuffed Grapeleaves per day, a higher volume than any machine could hope to accomplish, for our family’s restaurant. For the record, Yergat is our preferred brand of grape leaves. Click over to The Pantry for more information.
VEGETARIAN STUFFED GRAPELEAVES
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, pour off the brine from your grape leaf jar and remove leaves gently to avoid tearing. Rinse the grape leaves under cold water. Transfer leaves to hot water and gently agitate them until all of the leaves are covered. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, strain, and rinse under cold water.
Unfurl the leaves and trim off the stems using kitchen scissors (Gail is particularly fond of Joyce Chen Unlimited shears, which easily cut through veggies and meat alike). Separate the leaves into piles according to size—larger leaves are best suited for Vegetarian Grapeleaves. Also make a pile of “rejects”—misshapen or ripped leaves. These will become our heroes later on!
Stuffing and Rolling
The amount of Meatless Stuffing you will use depends on the size of each individual grape leaf. Place a grape leaf on the table or cutting board, making sure the veins of the leaf are facing you. Take a small spoonful of stuffing in your hands and form into cylinder shape, then place in the center of the grape leaf toward the bottom. Spread out the stuffing so that the final shape of the roll is long and slightly thinner than a Meat-Filled Grape Leaf. Roll the bottom of the leaf upward, then roll in from the side, and roll forward tightly (similar to how you would roll a burrito or an egg roll). Keep the seam facing downward until you are ready to put the rolled grapeleaves in a pot. See the video below for a quick demonstration—for a close-up view of the proper rolling technique, take a look at the video on our Lamb Stuffed Grapeleaves post.
Notes: If there is a hole in the grape leaf you’re working with, tear off a piece of another leaf and use to to patch the hole before rolling as normal. Whether you’re cooking Lamb Stuffed or Vegetarian Grapeleaves, make sure that your rolls are very tight to ensure proper cooking.
Remember those “reject” leaves? Here’s where they become a hero! Using these leaves, line the bottom of a 3-quart sauce pot. Stack rolled grapeleaves in the pan with the seam facing down. Place each layer of rolls in an opposing direction. Add 1 cup of Tomato Sauce to the pot and then add just enough water to cover the rolls. Stack a plate on top of the grapeleaves—this will weigh the rolls down and keep them from floating while cooking. Cook on medium-high heat until water comes to a boil. Once water is boiling, turn heat to medium and bring to a slow boil. Continue to cook for 30 minutes, then pour in ½ cup of lemon juice to the pot. Cook for an additional 30 minutes or until tender.