My Grandmother’s Stuffed Grapeleaves Recipe

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I’m going out on a limb with this recipe… but if you’ve ever been inspired to try something different or eaten something in a restaurant and thought, I want to know how they make this, then this recipe is for you!!

Everyone’s got their own childhood memories when it comes to food.  For most kids in America their earliest or first memories in the kitchen are probably sticking their fingers in some sort of ooey chocolatey batter and licking the bowl clean or eating some raw cookie dough while Mom or Grandma was making some cookies.

Well folks, I have an entirely different type of “first time in the kitchen” childhood memory.  Stuffed grape leaves. Stuffed grape leaves, you say? Yep – stuffed grape leaves.  

I can remember eating them as soon as I could walk and talk. In fact, I still have the very vivid memory of standing in my grandmother’s kitchen with the leaves all lined up on the counter next to the stack of cigar shaped leaves that were already done, and running by and stealing a few of them before they were cooked.   She would be screaming as I whizzed by – “Don’t eat them raw! You’re going to get sick!” So began my trek of living on the edge!  But I never got sick and still to this day, even when I’m making them myself, I steal a few. (I don’t recommend that you do this by the way, you really can get sick. I’ve become such the mom!) 

But back to my point… what was my point?  Oh, yes, my point was that I never got around to asking her for the recipe, nor did anyone else for that matter, and she made them the best! As good as I’ve ever had, and over the years I’ve learned to adjust my recipe to what I think her’s tasted like. I think I’ve come close!

Making stuffed grape leaves is sort of like ceviche: Every region has a different take on how to do it. Some people make it with only rice and onions, some add parsley, some don’t. Some use lamb, some use beef, some add coriander.  It’s all about where you’re from. So here is mine, complete with all my little tricks for making Grandma Margaret’s Grapeleaves (a.k.a. the best darn stuffed grape leaves you’ll ever eat!) 

And while it does take some work, pay off is seriously incredible. I’ll take you through it, step by step, and be sure to check out the photo gallery below for exact descriptions. Remember, you can do this!!!  One more tip: It might be fun to get the kids in the kitchen with you to help you on this one. Expose them to something new… they might even surprise you and try it! 

Armenian Style Stuffed Grapeleaves

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds of ground beef
  • 1 can or 16 oz of plain tomato sauce
  • 2 cups uncooked white rice
  • ½ small onion finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • One 16 oz jar of grape leaves

 

Directions

Remove the grape leaves from the jar. This takes a little bit of jiggling to get them out, as they are packed in brine. I suggest sticking a finger in there and tilting it to the side to remove all of the liquid first, then gently pull the bunches out.  There should be two or three neatly folded bundles in there, depending on the size of the leaves.  Drain, open up the bunches and allow them to sit in some clean cold water for a few minutes to remove some of the excess saltiness.

Once they’ve sat for a few minutes, begin removing the stems from each leave.  (If you leave the stems on, they will be too tough to chew.)

While the grape leaves are soaking, in a separate bowl mix together the beef, rice, spices, lemon juice and ¾ of the can of tomato sauce- reserving ¼ of the can for use later. Now get in there and use your hands and mix mix mix! Making sure everything is combined well. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Get ready to roll:

1. Place the leave with the shiny side down, vein side up on a flat surface and spread out.  Place about a teaspoon to tablespoon (depends on leave size) and using the tips of your fingers, pinch it outwards until you’re about 2 inches from each edge.

2. Fold up the bottom leaf

3. Fold in the sides

4. Roll upwards tightly.  Don’t roll it up too tight as while the rice and meat are cooking, they will expand and it will tear the leaf or unravel.

5. Repeat this process with the remaining leaves and meat mixture, reserving about 5 -10 leaves to the side.

Now here comes the tricky part… (as if this wasn’t hard enough!)  If you don’t place your little grape leave cigars properly in the pot while they’re cooking then all this is for nothing. Ha ha ha. I’m KIDDING! You’re doing great!

In a large saucepan or medium sized pot, lay a few leaves on the bottom of the pan.  Lay each stuffed grape leave side by side next to each other tightly, seam side up and continue making even layers.  Do not fill it all the way to the rim of the pan, as it will as I said expand and well, you’ll have a mess on your hands… or your stove rather.  Layer about 2 inches from the top of the pan and place a small plate upside down on top of the grape leaves and apply pressure to hold it down.

In a large measuring cup mix together:

  • 2 cups cold water
  • Remaining tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon crushed mint
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic (mortar & pestle it into a paste)
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ lemon juice

 

Pour this mixture over the leaves, making sure that they are covered just over the top of the edge of the plate on top.  If you don’t have enough liquid, add more plain water.  Cook on high heat until it comes to a boil and then reduce heat down to a low simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, making sure that the leaves don’t move around inside the pot.

You’ll know it’s cooked once you open it and the rice is cooked.

Allow to sit for a few minutes before removing plate from the top – remove leaves from the pot and serve with some lemon wedges… or as we do with some plain yogurt on the side.

**sidenotes**

You can omit the cayenne if it’s too spicy for you.
Look for leaves that aren’t too thick.  Use only the flexible soft leaves
This meat filling can be used to stuff bell peppers, small eggplants, zucchini, or even tomatoes. You’d cook it using the same process.
Once you get the hang of rolling the leaves you’ll be on a roll… ha ha ha (bad joke) Just know, they don’t have to be perfect!

I hope that you try this recipe… it’s a little bit a work… who am I kidding… it’s work!  But you’ll really love the end result!  I know I always did and still do!

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