❄From Chef Joey! Thanksgiving dinner starter❄ …

STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES: Try These as a Thanksgiving Starter for your Smaller Crowd This Year!

By Chef Joey

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Chef Joey! file photo: Rose T.

It’s the fall and with it comes crisp air and, of course, outdoor lawn maintenance, mainly leaves and getting rid of them. They are beautiful to look at and give us wonderful shade in the summer, so we really cannot complain.

Leaves of many plants, however, go back thousands of years as a food source. Immediately, grape leaves are probably the most popular these days. However, other leaves are still used with food, sort of an organic wrap if you will: corn husks for tamales, for example; avocado, banana and plantain leaves are also used. In Asia it is not uncommon to find foods wrapped in curry leaves, coconut or even palm leaves. In India they use banyan tree leaves as dishes! They dry out the leaves and stack them and hold them together with wooden sticks – quite creative!

Today’s recipe is all about grape leaves. They are usually served as an appetizer or a dinner. There are even sweet versions, notably Persian, that are sweet in nature and are a good energy snack.

The “Old Wives Tale” is you need to pick the grape leaves before the 4th of July to have the most tender ones. They are usually blanched, and they used to “jar” them. However, we now have freezers for quick storage.

I personally buy them in a jar, at any Middle Eastern or specialty store. There can be anywhere of 50 to 100 in a jar, depending on the size, and they sell for about $3.50. A cup of rice, and if you add meat, excluding labor, you have a meal for quite a few people for well under $10. Today’s focus is on golden raisin sweet and sour ones, and a meat recipe for those staunch meat lovers.

To make grape leaves, you will need a jar of leaves, take them out and rinse them in a colander to wash off the vinegar water.

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Take them and lay them flat and using scissors remove the stems that are intertwined. You will eventually take a tablespoon of your stuffing place it in the middle, cover with the bottom piece, then each side and roll to the top.

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For vegan grape leaves or “Dolmas” take one regular size onion and cut into tiny pieces:
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In a deep saute pan add some olive oil and toss the onions in until translucent, add 1 cup clopped parsley …

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… and 2 tablespoons of chopped mint …

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… add 1/2 cup of short grain rice and 1 ½ cups veggie broth or water and veggie bouillon cubes.

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Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer about 30 mins until the rice is cooked.

When done add 1 cup golden raisins (brown work, too), 2 tablespoons of pomegranate concentrate (grenadine works too) and 2 tablespoons lemon juice and a little salt and pepper.

Mix well and spoon 1 large teaspoon and roll the leaves!

Any small or broken leaves are used to line your pan because we are not quite done – so in a large pot wipe the bottom with olive oil and with the broken small or torn leaves, line the bottom about 2 layers – its not waste as you can eat those after too!

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As you roll the leaves, place them in the pan in a circular way and layer them as needed. When you are done, mix ½ cup water with 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, pour over the grape leaves – add a touch more water if they are not slightly covered.

Place an oven proof plate on top for weight – I usually use a pie plate – you can also use a pan that fits in the pan with a weight in it (coffee cup for example). Cook on a low heat for 45 minutes – let cool and enjoy! You can eat them warm or cold!

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tbsp total)

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1 small chopped onion

¼ tsp salt

pinch of black pepper

1 cup chopped parsley (flat)

1 tbsp chopped mint

½ cup uncooked small grain rice

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 cup golden raisins

2 tbsp pomegranate concentrate

3 tbsp lemon juice

½ cup water

jar of grape leaves

For meat grape leaves, soak the rice in a bold of water until you can squeeze the rice in half with your fingernails. The difference being that you take the soaked rice and mix with the meat mixture and then you cook them in beef broth until the rice cooks.

1 jar grape leaves

1 1/2 cups short grain rice soaked in water 15 mins

olive oil

1 medium onion chopped fine

1 pound ground beef

salt to taste

black pepper

½ tsp cumin

1 tsp allspice (mix of nutmeg and cinnamon)

½ cup of parsley finely chopped. (You can use all parsley too and no mint.)
½ cup of mint finely chopped.
½ cup dill finely chopped (CAN ASLO BE ADDED – I DON’T)

Same story: add a couple tbsp olive oil to the pan, sauté the onion until translucent, add the meat and cook (remove any excess grease), then add all the spices – drain the rice and mix in and stuff the same way. REMEMBER the rice will expand! – cover with beef stock – I add a couple of sliced tomato for extra flavor …

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– however, you don’t have to. Cook for 45 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

They are delicious with plain yogurt – you can even add chopped mint, cucumbers and some garlic to make a tzatziki-like dip!

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Yummy appetizers!

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