Stuffed Grape Leaves 24.000

Renee Comet for The Washington Post; styling by Bonnie S. Benwick

Plate Lab Jun 15, 2016

This classic mezze is from an Abi-Najm family recipe that's almost 40 years old.

You'll need a wide, 3-quart Dutch oven or lidded, heavy pot. It's a good idea to buy more grape leaves than you'll need, so you can have the best selection of ones that are about the same size and in good condition. Save the ones that may be too large and/or torn, and use them for protective layering in the pot.

Make Ahead: The stuffed grape leaves taste even better after a day's refrigeration in their cooking liquid. They can be refrigerated that way for up to 4 days. Leftover filling can be cooked separately in a pot on the stove as a side dish.

Where to Buy: Dried mint is used here instead of fresh because it doesn't turn black, and its floral notes hold up better in long cooking. It is available (in large quantities and typically less expensively) at Mediterranean markets. The chef prefers Roland brand pickled grape leaves, which are available at Mediterranean markets, as well.


Servings:
24

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 24 servings; makes 48 pieces

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds fresh, ripe Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped (1 to 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups no-salt-added chickpeas, drained and rinsed (from two 14-ounce cans)
  • 2 generous cups minced flat-leaf parsley (from 1 to 2 bunches)
  • 2 cups short-grain rice (uncooked)
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (from 3 to 4 lemons), plus more as needed
  • 3/4 cup water, plus more for the pot as needed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons dried mint (see headnote)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 48 pickled grape leaves (from three or four 16-ounce jars)
  • 1 or 2 (raw) russet potatoes, thinly sliced, for the pot

Directions

Cut off the top of each tomato (at least 1/4 inch) and reserve. Cut the tomatoes into small dice; drain and reserve any juices.

Combine the drained tomatoes, onion, chickpeas, parsley, rice, cup of lemon juice, 3/4 cup of water, oil, allspice and dried mint in a very large mixing bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate. This is your filling mixture.

Drain the grape leaves and gently remove them from the jars; do not pat dry. Stack 48 of them, preferably of similar size, unfurling to check for any tears. Reserve large and/or torn ones for the pot. Use a paring knife to remove and discard the little stubs of stems at the bottom.

Working inside a rimmed baking sheet (to control the mess), lay a grape leaf flat, with the stem end nearest you. Pinch a generous tablespoon's worth of the filing near the bottom of the leaf's center, squeezing out excess moisture as you work. Roll the stem end (two semi-divided sides of the leaf) over the filling, then keep rolling and folding in the sides to form a fairly tight, thumb-size log -- but don't make it too tight, or the stuffed grape leaves may burst as they cook. Repeat to create 48 pieces, lining them along the baking sheet as you go and placing them flat. You may have some filling left over.

Create a single layer at the bottom of the pot with some of the tomato tops and potato slices and with some of the grape-leaf rejects; you don't want the stuffed grape leaves in direct contact with the pot. Cover with a single layer of the stuffed grape leaves in close-formation (touching) rows, placing more of the reject leaves and any remaining tomato tops and potato slices on top of them as a protective layer. Build another layer of the stuffed grape leaves, changing its orientation 90 degrees.

Once all the pieces are snugly in place, top with a final layer of leaves. Pour some lemon juice over that final cover layer. Cover with 2 plates that fit just inside the pot, pressing them so they'll keep the stuffed grape leaves submerged. Pour any reserved tomato juices plus any juices from the filling mixture into the pot; add water as needed to make sure the leaves are covered. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 1 1/2 hours, checking every now and then to add water as needed. The leaves will be tender and slightly darkened in color, with noticeable signs of cooked rice here and there.

Uncover and cool to room temperature. Or, better yet, repack in a container without the layers of loose leaves, tomato tops and potato slices, with enough cooking liquid to cover; refrigerate until well chilled before serving.

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Recipe Source

From chef Joseph Comfort, culinary operations director of Lebanese Taverna Group.

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.

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Email questions to the Food Section at food@washpost.com.