Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades)
While you can put anything inside the grape leaves, I like the meat and rice combo when making them as part of the meal. Just leave out the meat if you want to serve as a side dish.
2 pounds ground beef (or any combo of beef and lamb)
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
2 cups long-grain rice (use the entire small bag)
1/4 cup chopped dill leaves (Just toss in little bottle of dried)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley or cilantro (Just toss in little bottle of dried)
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper (liberally sprinkle over meat)
2 large jars grape leaves, rinsed and drained
2 cans chicken or beef stock (I know we are using beef, but I don’t like beef stock – your choice)
1 stick butter
2 lemons, juiced (jarred is fine)
Getting the grape leaves out of the jar is one of life’s challenges. There is no easy way! If you will drain the liquid, then wiggle your fingers inside the jar pressing down on the grape leaves until you have rotated around the jar, making enough room to be able to grab leaves on both sides. Squeeze, twist, pull… repeat again and again until you can pull the leaves from the jar. Don’t use anything metal or try to leverage them out because you will break the jar…. (don’t ask how I know this).
Once you have the leaves out of the jars, place them in a large bowl and cover with water. Unfold and separate them. Rinse well and stack with inside of leaf up (shining side down).*
*Some people will blanch the leaves in boiling water before using. I have found this doesn’t make a difference in the end product but DOES make them really easy to tear while trying to stuff! I pass on this step because I cook them in boiling water. If you were baking them without the water bath, perhaps this would help make them tender.
In another large bowl, combine the meat, onion, rice, dill, parsley or cilantro (or combo of both), oil, salt and pepper. Mix well. This usually requires getting your hands in the mix but can be done with a large spoon and elbow grease.
Gather a large pot (stock pot size), cutting board, sharp knife and a couple of paper towels. You will want a beverage and a place to sit while stuffing these. This is the labor portion of the dish…not hard, just time-consuming.
Start by lining the bottom and lower 1/4 pot with torn or small leaves. You will need about three layers overlapping to completely cover the bottom and up the sides.
Take a leaf, place it rough side up with stem towards you. Gently cut stem off leaf while trying to not tear the leaf. (I have assigned this task to a helper using a pair of scissors)
With stem removed, scoop a spoonful of meat mixture onto the leaf at the widest part. Fold the sides over the meat towards the middle of the leaf, then fold the stem end of the leaf over the filling, finally roll up into a tube shape (it should be snug but not overly tight because the rice will swell once it is fully cooked and may burst). The stuffed leaves should be about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. Stack leaves along the bottom of the pan, seam side down, touching as you fill in around the bottom of the pot. Start on new layer as you fill the pot.
Repeat with the remaining grape leaves and meat mixture.
When finished rolling leaves, pour broth and lemon juice over leaves. Fill with water until the leaves are completely covered. Slice one stick of butter and dab over leaves. Weigh the grape leaves down with a small dinner plate turned upside down
Cover and set burner to medium heat for approximately 50 to 60 minutes or until the grape rolls are tender and most of the water has been absorbed.
Serve with yogurt sauce.
They freeze well. Both just prior to cooking and once cooked. I usually cook them all at once and then freeze half in five packs. Pop them in the microwave for 60 seconds and they are ready to go.
These will be wonderful right from the stove top but will be even better the following day.
Absolutely worth the time and effort to make!