After visiting the International Food Club, and coming home with grape leaves, I knew right then that I would be making stuffed grape leaves that night. Before making this dish, I did speak to a few people of Greek decent. I asked them about the filling, and in their families, what was traditional. They were all pretty much the same on the specifics of the filling. Next I did a little research of the web. Because it was my first time making this dish, I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. What I found was, there was one difference from those I spoke to. The on line recipes, called for adding some type of nuts to the filling, whether it be chopped almonds or pine nuts, I’ve decided to make my version as close to an authentic recipe with the option of adding nuts. With this being said, this dish is definitely a labor of love.
The very fist step, was to rinse the long grain rice of any excess starch. I placed 1 cup of Jasmine rice into a large bowl and filled it with 3 cups of water. Enough to cover the rice completely. I let the rice sit in the water until the water turned cloudy. I then repeated this process. It took about four times of rinsing the rice for the water to remain clear. Once that was completed, I completely drained the water from the rice and let that sit to the side while I worked on the grape leaves.
The next step is what I mean by this dish being a labor of love. As you can see, the grape leaves are in a brine to preserve them. What you need to do is to remove the leaves from the jar, separating them carefully and removing the hard stem from each leaf. Rinsing each one off really well to remove any brine that may be on them. I lined a large plate with paper towel, and after rinsing each leaf, I let the excess water drain onto the paper towel, patting dry the top of each leaf, before moving them to this bowl. The imperfect leaves, I used to line the bottom of the pot. This will stop the grape leaves from having direct contact with the bottom of the pot and ensure they will not burn. Next, the filling.
In a Dutch oven style pot, I’ve sauteed some diced onion and green onions in a little olive oil on med heat, just until they’ve soften. I’ve shown the pine nuts above as an ingredient, but that is optional. I’ve also added ground beef to the pot that I have broken up with the back of a wooden spoon. Still on med heat, I continued to cook the beef until brown, about 10 minutes, before adding in the raw rice. At this point I seasoned with Kosher salt and pepper. Next for the pine nuts and herbs. I used three different types of herbs. Mint, dill, and flat leaf Italian parsley. I mixed all the ingredients together before adding the water to the pot. Once the water has been added, bring up to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover and let cook, for about another 10 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. Remove the pot from the heat, turn the filling out into a bowl and let cool for about 30 minutes. Now because I started with the grape leaves, once the filling has cooled, I can go ahead and start stuffing the leaves.
One important thing that I want to mention here is, that you want to stuff the leaves pretty tightly but not too tight. See the rice is still going to continue to cook in the next step, and with that said, the rice may expand a bit more and you don’t want the grape leaves to break, or to come apart while cooking. I laid a plastic baggie down on my cutting board, placed a leaf, shiny side down, then I added a heaping teaspoon of filling to the bottom portion of each leaf. Next, I brought the bottom of the leaf up over the filling then folded in each side and continued to roll the rest of the leaf. Similar to a mini burrito. I placed the stuffed grape leaves in a circular pattern into the pot. I ended up with two layers of stuffed grape leaves when I was finished. At this point, in a measuring cup, I have the fresh lemon juice, olive oil and water that I’m adding in as I pour this liquid over the grape leaves.
Before placing the lid onto the pot, I placed a heavy plate, upside down on top of the stuffed grape leaves to prevent the leaves from unrolling. Bring to a boil, on med heat, while covered, then reduce to a simmer and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. This should take 25-30 minutes. I put my ear close to the pot to hear the liquid boiling so as not to remove the cover. That’s when I turn down the heat and let it simmer. After 30 minutes remove the pot from the heat and set aside while you make the egg lemon sauce.
Instructions and Ingredients For Avolemono ( Egg and Lemon Sauce)
To make this sauce, I would have to say the whole process takes about 15 minutes. I have in a sauce pan, 2 tablespoons of butter melting. To that I’m adding in 3 tablespoons of flour. Whisk the butter and flour together until the raw flour and combined with the butter. Then I add in, 1- 10-3/4 ounce can of low sodium chicken broth , 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and the juice of three lemons whisking continuously. Once the mixture reaches a boil the lemon chicken broth will have thickened. Remove the broth from the heat for just a minute. The thickened broth should be warm but not boiling hot when proceeding with the next step. Next, whisk the 4 room temperature egg yolks in a bowl. Then ladle some of the warm liquid slowly to the bowl of beaten egg yolks, whisking them together. This process is called tempering the eggs. You want to bring the eggs up to the same temperature as the broth. Now add the yolk mixture to the pot with the chicken broth. Place the pot back onto the heat, (on med low), still whisking. In a few minutes the sauce will start to thicken once it comes back up to just under the boiling point, remove from the heat and it’s ready. Now I found if the sauce is not as thick as I’d like it. In another small bowl I’ll take 1 tablespoon of corn starch and 1 tablespoon of water, whisk those together really well, then add the corn starch mixture to the pot of sauce while it’s still being whisked continuously on very low heat. This will help thicken the sauce to the consistency similar to a Hollandaise. That’s what your looking for. The name of this traditional egg lemon sauce is called Avgolemono.
Now when removing the stuffed grape leaves from the pot, be careful because the plate under the cover is still very hot. Use a slotted spoon to remove the leaves in case of any liquid that may be in the pot. Place on a serving platter along side the egg lemon sauce and serve.
Yields: 4 servings
Prep Time: 1 -1-1/2 hours
Cooking Time For Stuffed Grape Leaves: 30 minutes
Equipment: Pot with a tight fitting lid
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup of chopped green onions
1 pound of lean ground beef
1/2 cup of raw long grain rice
2 tablespoons of pine nuts (optional)
2 tablespoons of fresh dill ( 1/2 the amount if dried herbs)
2 tablespoons of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley ( 1/2 the amount if dried)
1 tablespoon of fresh mint ( 1/2 the amount if dried))
1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper
1 16 ounce jar of drained and rinsed grape leaves.
7 whole lemons ( for both grape leaves, egg- lemon sauce, and 1-2 lemons for garnish)
Ingredients after leaves are stuffed and in the pot:
3/4 cup of water
3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon of olive oil
Directions: Start with prepping the grape leaves and rinsing the starch off the rice as explained above. Next make the filling and stuff the leaves. Prepare the pot lined with the imperfect leaves and then place the stuffed leaves into the pot carefully. Add the liquid then set a plate upside down to keep the stuffed leaves from unrolling. Place a tight fitting lid on the pot and cook for 25-30 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Take off the heat leaving the lid on to stay warm while making the egg- lemon sauce. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove the stuffed leaves and set them onto a serving plate along side the sauce. Garnish with lemon slices.