Ocean City Today

Walker provides stuffed grape leaves recipe

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | May 04, 2017

(May 5, 2017) “The Fox and the Grapes” is one of Aesop’s notorious fables, numbered 15 in the Perry index.

The story is about a fox that cannot reach a mouthwatering bunch of grapes; as a result, he declares they are unripe, not worthy, and moves on. The moral of this Greek proverb is one should not belittle that which is beyond their reach.

Imagine if chefs took the attitude of the fox and scorned cultural differences and disdained the thought of change. Progression and fusion would never make the menu and the art of cookery would dwindle to a mere feeding of daily necessity.

We as food enthusiasts should not forget the story of the contemptuous fox and the delectable grapes. Lessons learned reflect awareness not only in the kitchen but in life itself. Diversity is a welcomed ingredient and no excuse for ignorance. Therefore, let us embrace a popular tradition that originated half way around the world.

“Dolmas” means “stuffed” and refers to a family of stuffed vegetables originating in Turkey but expanding all over the Mediterranean and the Middle East. We will be focusing on the traditional Greek dolmades that are made of grape leaves with a stuffing of rice or a combination of rice and meat.

Before we delve into the subject of dolmades, the science of rice needs to be addressed. The rice-to-water ratio does not hold true when scaling up a recipe. According to “Cook’s Illustrated,” after running a series of tests, it was confirmed that rice absorbs water in a 1:1 ratio, no matter the volume. For example, take a rice pilaf recipe that calls for 1 ½ cups rice and 2 ¼ cups of water. Many home cooks do not realize that the rice will only absorb 1 ½ cups of water; the remaining ¾ cup of water evaporates.

Science is an intricate part of cooking and knowledge ascertains distinction. The amount of water that evaporates does not double when the amount of rice is doubled. The bottom line: to double the rice pilaf recipe, use 3 cups of rice and only 3 ¾ cups of water ( 2 ¼ + 1 ½).

Now that we have a better understanding on the preparation of rice, let us move onto the subject of grape leaves. Generally grape leaves are picked from wild vines. Cultivated vines are not as tender and flavorful. If possible, use fresh grape leaves. They are very difficult to find but if you get lucky, choose young, blemish-free leaves and store them flat, layered with paper towels, in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them. Otherwise, jarred leaves are perfectly acceptable.

Whether using fresh leaves, salted, or jarred, you will need to blanch them before cooking; fresh leaves need the cooking time to tenderize them, and the preserved types need a quick dunk to remove some of the brine.

Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a rolling boil and fill a large bowl two-thirds of the way with ice water. Plunge the leaves in the boiling water; the cooking time will depend on whether the leaves are fresh or preserved. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the grape leaves to the ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain again and lightly pat dry with paper towels. Do not blanch until you are ready to cook them.

To stuff the leaves, take a leaf and carefully spread it on a flat working surface with veins facing upward. Place approximately 1 to 2 tablespoons of the rice stuffing near the stem end (the amount of stuffing will depend on the size of the leaves). Press the stuffing into a small sausage-like shape.

Fold the stem end of the leaf over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and finally roll the grape leaf into a cigar shape. The fold should be snug but not overly tight because the rice will swell once it is fully cooked and possibly burst. The rolls should be cylindrical (about 2 inches long and 1 inch thick).

Stuffed grape leaves are easy to make and a fun way to involve the kids. Once one understands the basic principles, feel free to deviate from conventional recipes.

Swiss chard stuffed with creamy feta orzo is an innovative twist. Consider a filling of quinoa, pistachios and raisins; the sweetness and parlay of flavors are sure to be a hit with vegetarians.

Following is a basic stuffed grape leaf recipe with a rice filling. A well seasoned chef looks forward to going out of their comfort zone. Enjoy!

Stuffed Grape Leaves


½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ cups long grain rice

¾ cup chicken stock

½ cup fresh dill, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh mint, finely chopped

½ cups toasted pine nuts

6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 cup vegetable stock

50 large jarred grape leaves

kosher salt to taste

fresh mint leaves, lemon slices and olives as a garnish

1. Pour ¼ cup of olive oil into a medium pot and heat it over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Add the rice to the pot and sauté for 2 minutes, constantly stirring.

2. Pour in chicken stock and lower the heat; simmer the rice uncovered for about 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is half way done. Cook the rice just to an al dente texture. Remove the pot from the heat.

3. Add dill, mint, pine nuts, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and lemon zest to the pot of rice. Stir the ingredients and season with salt. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanche the leaves in boiling water for 3 minutes. Immediately place leaves in cold water. Rinse and carefully pat dry with paper towels.

5. Roll the grape leaves according to the instructions in the article. Save enough leaves to form a layer in the bottom of a medium pan.

6. Spray the bottom of the medium pan with cooking spray. Then, add a layer of grape leaves to the bottom of the pan. This keeps the rolled grape leaves from sticking to the pan.

7. Stack rolled grape leaves on top of the layer of grape leaves; make sure you stack them close together.

8. Pour 1 cup of vegetable stock, ¼ cup olive oil and remaining lemon juice over the stuffed grape leaves. Heat the pan over medium heat until it begins to simmer (do not allow it to come to a boil).

9. Turn the heat to low, so the leaves are slowly simmering, and place an inverted heat-safe plate on top of the stuffed grape leaves.

10. Cover and allow the stuffed grape leaves to cook for 30 to 45 minutes. Check one just to make sure it is cooked all the way.

11. Stuffed grape leaves can be served warm or cold.

Secret Ingredient - Journey. “Life is a journey and not a destination.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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