Lebanese Grape Leaves – Back to my Roots
In the midst of uncertainty and turmoil, sometimes it does the soul some good to return to our roots. On Thursday, I had the good fortune to have a medical appointment in the home of my caregiver due to COVID-19. I happened to notice her garden in the back yard, with a large beautiful grape vine arbor —- and being my Mom’s daughter, of course asked to gather a few dozen leaves for dinner!
This recipe originates from my Mom’s St. Mary’s Orthodox Church cookbook, which is our ancestral church. Really — my Dad’s family and a dozen other Lebanese families started this church. Mom added a few of her own tweaks, which are lovingly written in her handwriting in the margins.
As a kid, grape leaves were always my favorite of all the Lebanese dishes (my brother’s favorite was kibbee). They were the ultimate finger food, as I would swoop in between our gathering family, grab one, and rush off to continue playing, It wasn’t uncommon to see one of us kids holding it like a cigar as we would take a bite to resemble all of our Dads and Uncles in their after dinner smoking habit.
Mom had an amazingly keen eye for spotting grape vines from what seemed miles away at great speeds – not exaggerating! Many family voyages driving the mountainsides of Pennsylvania were interrupted when Mom would tell Dad to stop the car and turn around because of a grape vine on the road side. Knowing the delicious delicacy that would be the fruits of his compliance, he ALWAYS turned around.
There is an art to picking grape leaves. You want to pinch off the leaf stem right where it comes off the vine. The earlier in the spring/summer season you pick them the better, and you want leaves that are a lighter green and slightly larger than your hand. If you use older or darker green leaves, they a noticeably tougher.
When cooking the grape leaves, you need to make sure the plate you place on top of the layers is heavy enough to hold the rolled leaves securely in place or the may unravel. I have been known to go find a heavy rock to weigh down my plate if needed (and yes – I make sure to wash and clean the rock first!)
Lebanese Grape Leaves
Mihsheh Warok Inib Lah'm
- 2 dozen grape leaves
- 1 cup rice, washed
- 1 pound ground lamb can substitute ground beef
- 1 tsp salt more or less to taste
- 1 tsp allspice more or less to taste
- 1 tbsp lemon juice more of less to taste
Place clean grape leaves aside.
Mix together rice, meat, and spices and blend well with hands.
Take one grape leave at a time and place one tablespoon of filling across leaf and fold sides away from you.
Arrange stuffed leaves in pan – you want them tightly packed – and alternate the direction with each row.
Sprinkle salt on tops, cover with a heavy plate, and cover water to the top of the plate. Add a heavy splash of lemon juice.
Cook covered on medium heat for about 40 minutes to an hour or until rice is done.