Stuffed Grape Leaves, Syrian Style


I’m so excited, I’m going to learn how to make Stuffed Grape Leaves, giggle.  Now these aren’t Dolmathes, the greek style Dolma, these are Syrian style.   And I’m just lucky enough to have a friend who asked me if I was interested in making some with her.   I couldn’t believe my ears, someone asked me if she could come over and make something with me in the kitchen.  I love it.  And especially since I get to make something I’ve never made before.  I’ve had Dolmathes, and they were good, but these are a little different, a different riff if you will.  (very suitable for me to say this, since it’s a musician who will be showing me some new notes in my kitchen).   Oh and another friend is coming over to make Baklava as well.   How lucky can I get?   Sorry, bursting out with big grins here from excitement.   I’ve had Robin’s Baklava before and I know how additive it can be.   And now I’ll learn how to make it as well.  But that will have to be a separate post.

I wrote the above last week when I was all excited.   Now that the big day has come and gone, well, all I can say is I had so much fun.    Debi Jordan is my musician friend ( Shameless plug for her music here) and I gotta say she rocks it in the kitchen and is welcome any time she wants to come on over and cook with me.   Especially when I can expand my repertoire a little.

Now, you will have to bear with me, cause nothing got measured out, so a lot of it was ‘eyeballed’ and a smidge and a dash and some of this and some of that.  But I can guesstimate pretty well so…   I also did a little shopping and picked up a jar of grape leaves as well as a couple of other things.   We didn’t use the couscous, but I can use that when I make some Tabbouli again.

Debi cutting up onions, she already has the grape leaves spread out

To make the stuffed grape leaves you need grape leaves, and they come in a jar.  Debi prefers Orlando Brand, California style.  I also picked up a jar just in case, but we had more than enough and we didn’t get a count on just many of those little suckers we rolled.   There are a few things you need to know about grape leaves, one is that you must remove them from the jar and gently flatten them onto a plate so they can relax a little and unfurl.   Another thing to know is that there is a right and a wrong side on grape leaves.  You always put the meat or rice on the inside of the leaf, where the main veins are.  The smooth side is always out.   Another tip, you nip off the end of the stems as you don’t want them inside.   All that being said, let’s get on with it.

I ground up some lamb and some beef.   There was about three pounds total.

I love my KitchenAid, it does so much for me.

Put that in a big bowl and Debi added some rice and seasoning.   There is the other thing, she used a spice mixture called Syrian Pepper.

All ready to mix together.

Which is basically a mixture of black peppercorns, allspice, cloves and nutmeg, all ground up together.   Some recipes call for cinnamon as well.   This was a new taste for me, and while I was a little hesitant, I found I liked it.  I’m not all that fond of Nutmeg, but it was complemented very nicely by the other spices.  Recipe for Syrian Pepper at the end of this post by the way.

Debi added about a cup or so of rice into the meat mixture, she did what many good cooks do, she eyeballed it.  Of course she has made this many times before so she knew the right proportions.    I’m guessing she also added almost a tablespoon of Syrian Pepper as well as about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of regular ground pepper.   She mixed that all together and we commenced to rolling.

Open the grape leaves up, with the vein side in, take about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture and form it into a cigar shape.  I found out later, we actually put too much meat in each package, but it’s all good and a learning curve.

 Tuck the base of the leaf up and over the meat, and fold in the sides, just as if you were wrapping a package, you don’t want any loose leaf hanging out.
Roll it up into a cylinder, making sure that the leaf stays tucked in.   You want it tight but not too tight, the rice will expand as it cooks and you don’t want a bunch of burst leaves, it would totally defeat the whole concept of stuffed grape leaves.   Also, you place them in the pot seam side down.   If you don’t they will come undone.    And I need to add something else here.  Some of the grape leaves were stuffed with rice which we’d par cooked with some of the Syrian pepper and Za’atar for a vegetarian version of the Stuffed Grape Leaves, so if you have a vegetarian around, you can safely serve them some grape leaves as well.

Once we got all the meat and rice rolled into nice little rolls, it was time to cook them.   As they were rolled we placed them into a large pot (and I neglected to get a picture of that, but hey, I was busy rolling), and covered them with water with about a cup or so of lemon juice and some garlic cloves. This was left to simmer for about an hour or until the rice was cooked.  Debi said she could tell when they were done by the way they smelled, but I caught her taking a taste test.   We then turned off the pot and let it sit while the rest of the meal was prepared.

While I was busy grinding the meat, Debi was making a Syrian Salad, isn’t it gorgeous looking?   as well as the Lebhan, which is a yoghurt sauce.

In the salad was Spinach, Red Onions, Beets, Cucumbers and Feta Cheese.   She finished it off with some Za’ tar seasoning, roasted pine nuts and olive oil and lemon juice for the dressing.

Also along the way, I did take a few pictures of the Baklava as it was being built, which is another post entirely.

However, some phyllo dough was left over and there was still some feta cheese as well as pine nuts and so Debi made some Spinach Pies.  After Robin lined the muffin tin with some phyllo dough brushed with butter.   These were baked off and wow, now I know how to make a version of Spanakoppita or I’ll just call them Spinach Pies, giggle.  They may not have looked real purty, but they sure tasted good.

Stuffed Grape Leaves, Spinach Pie, Leban Salad and Yoghurt sauce.  A really great meal.

We finished off the meal with some Cherry Tarts that I’d thrown together earlier in the day, as the Baklava needed to age before we could eat that.

And Robin was right about that.  I snuck a piece the next day, but it is now covered and waiting out of temptations way, I hope.   I’ll eat some in a few days.

SYRIAN PEPPER:
3 ounces whole allspice
1 ounce whole black peppercorn
5 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Directions:
1
Grind the allspice, pepper, and cloves in a food processor, coffee grinder or blender.
2

Add the cinnamon and nutmeg and pulse briefly to combine

So there you have part of my cooking adventures, I so love it when someone asks if they can come over to my house and cook, especially when I get introduced to a cuisine I’m not familiar with.    We had some laughs, I learned how to roll a grape leaf and now I have a supply of Za’atar in my cupboard.

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