summer time wouldn’t be complete without fresh grape leaves to make either meat and rice or vegetarian rolled grape leaves! lebanese people all over the world plant grape vines just for the leaves to use in making this classic eastern mediterranean dish, and mine were planted years ago! only the freshest, tenderest leaves are to be used, and only those with a shiny, green back rather than concord type grapes that have a rather fuzzy, whitish back.
since the season is short for the perfect leaves, it is customary to freeze or can extra leaves—a fine substitute come winter time. extra, too small, or torn leaves are used to line the bottom of the pan in the vegan version, while leaves and lamb bones are used for the pan bottom of the meat and rice stuffed rolls. both recipes are in Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking and are simpler to make than one might imagine, especially if you have a friend to help you roll them and share conversation: a tradition in itself!
the fresh vegetarian/vegan filling is bright with flavors of parsley, mint, lemon, onion, and tomato, zipped up with salt, black pepper, and a bit of cayenne pepper.
fresh leaves are slightly steamed or left out to wilt for ease of rolling, and the stem/vein side is placed facing you on your work surface. add a small amount of filling, and the fun begins!
first step is to fold the bottom two sections of the leaf up and over the rice mixture. then the left and right sides in towards the center, followed by rolling it up from the bottom as if you are rolling up a carpet!
gently place each roll, parallel to each other in the bottom of a deep pot lined with a couple of layers of leaves, to keep them from sticking.
the second layer is placed on top of the first layer, perpendicular to them, and this continues until you have used up all of the leaves or filling!
mama used a heavy kitchen plate on top of the stack of rolled grape leaves to keep them from expanding out of shape during the stove top cooking. water or stock is added to the pot along with garlic cloves, lemon juice, and a bit of olive oil with water for the rice mixture to cook.
when the cooking is complete, the plate is removed and a serving platter is placed on top of the pan, and carefully flipped out with a slice of lemon garnish making a beautiful food mandala for serving.
in arabic, rolled grape leaves have various names besides waraq’ inab such as yabra, and waraq’ arish! i hope you make a lot of them as you and yours will enjoy these for days: warm, cold or at room temperature! sahtein!