In the Middle East, recipes for stuffed vegetables and leaves evolved from a simple, thrifty way with meat to a culinary passion.
Careful housewives have long known that a little ground meat goes a long way when artfully seasoned and combined with rice.
But it took imagination and care to develop the recipes of stuffed leaves and vegetables in sauce that so entrance the Middle Eastern palate, like our stuffed zucchinis, stuffed potatoes, and stuffed artichoke hearts.
For this recipe, there’s no need to wait for grape vines to put out fresh leaves in spring. Grape leaves that you buy in jars make fine wrappings for the delicately spicy filling below. I find the simple manual process of stuffing and rolling the grape leaves enjoyable and meditative. Mostly, though, I enjoy the compliments when family and guests take “just one more” till the platter is empty.Iraqi Stuffed Grape Leaves
1 lb – 500 gram jar grape leaves
1 lb- 500 grams raw ground lamb
1 cup rice, rinsed
2 medium onions
2 medium tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup scallions
2 tablespoons fresh coriander
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed allspice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoons salt
2 cups tomato juice
1 more teaspoon salt
Rinse the grape leaves and set in a colander to drain.
Chop all vegetables and coriander leaves finely.
Combine all ingredients except the second teaspoon of salt and tomato juice.
Place each leaf shiny side down. Spoon approximately 1 heaping tablespoon stuffing on the wide end of each leaf. Roll tightly, tucking in end as you roll. If necessary, secure the cigar-shaped package with a toothpick.
Place any extra leaves on bottom of a saucepan, then arrange stuffed leaves on top, side by side in alternating layers. Sprinkle remaining salt over top, then pour tomato juice over rolls.
Cover with an inverted plate, then add enough water to barely cover plate. Bring to boil, then cover. Cook over medium heat for 1 hour or until meat and rice are done.
To make this dish vegan, simply leave out the lamb and increase the rice to 2 cups.
Serve hot or cold. Enjoy!
Stuffed veg comes in meatless guise too. Here are some vegetarian variations: