In Turkish cuisine, there are a lot of dishes that are stuffed with different kinds of mixtures. We can stuff any vegetable or even meat with something. We fill peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, any vegetable that can contain something inside, with a kind of rice mixture or sometimes with cheese. We also fill chicken, some fishes or a part of lamb with some other mixtures. Moreover, we can create the “container” ourselves by kneading different kinds of dough (of flour, ground wheat or semolina).
We use grapevine leaves for a kind of stuffed dish. People generally prefer it with different kinds of rice mixture (we call it grapevine with olive oil), but there are also people adding minced meat into this rice mixture (we call it grapevine with meat).
If you ask me, the one with olive oil (rice only) is better as this is a kind of cold dish. If you make it with minced meat, you should serve it hot. Stuffed grapevine leaves may be eaten as a main dish with a dollop of yogurt near it after a hot soup, or it may accompany other appetizers near raki (it beacomes an appetizer too). Moreover, it can also be your snack, which is my favorite.
Generally, I don’t prefer making it in small amounts, I make a pot of stuffed grapevine leaves and keep the leftovers in refrigerator. Whenever I feel hungry, it makes me happy to know that I have some stuffed grapevine leaves waiting for me in my kitchen. I think, it’s the same for others. When I open the refrigerator to snack a few stuffed leaves for the second or third time, I always realize that, it’s not just me who is throwing them one by one to my stomach. And most probably, I find the pot empty the next time.
There are even different versions of that rice mixture filling depending on the regions. Some make it with just rice and onion, some add a lot of greens in it, some add tomatoes and pepper paste, some add currant and pine nut, some add little sugar in it, some don’t, some saute this filling mixture before stuffing the leaves, some don’t. You see, there are a lot of versions, you can add your own ingredient to make it peculiar to yourself.
• 500 gr grapevine leaves (canned or fresh ones)
For filling mixture:
• 2 cups rice
• 5 onions
• 1 tomato
• 2 cloves garlic
• Half bunch of parsley
• Half bunch of dill
• 1 lemon, juice only
• 1 tbsp pepper or tomato paste
• 1 tsp dry mint
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp black pepper
• ½ tsp cinnamon
• 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
If you have canned leaves, you don’t need to do any work on them, just washing well is enough. But if you have fresh ones, do the following:
Put a liter of water in a pot and boil it. When it boils, put the washed leaves in the pot. And boil them until they change from green to yellowish (about 5 minutes). You shouldn’t keep them in hot water too long, otherwise they get too soft to be folded. Drain them and wash again with cold water and put them aside.
To prepare the filling; first wash the rice and drain it well. Put it in a large bowl. Then chop onions, garlic, tomato, dill, parsley one by one and add them into the bowl. Then pour half of the olive oil and lemon juice in it. Put the pepper paste and stir. Now it comes to spices. You can be as creative as you can in this part. I put black pepper (so important for its flavor in this dish), cinnamon and dry mint besides salt. Combine them well. I don’t cook this mixture, I use it raw whereas some prefer sauting it a little.
Cover the bottom of the pot with grapevine leaves. We’ll put the stuffed leaves on them.
Now we can pass to stuffing and folding part. Take one grapevine leaf, cut its stem and lay it on a plate or counter. Put its veiny part (the darker colored part) upside. Put some filling mixture on the larger side, the side of its stem. Do not put too much filling, otherwise it may protrude.
Fold one side on the filling, then fold the other side.
And fold the larger parts on these.
And roll it to wrap it up. Put it in the pot. Do the same until you finish the leaves.
Lay the stuffed leaves in the pot side by side, without leaving any space between each.
When you put all of them in the pot lining one above another, put a dish upside down on the top to prevent them from scattering. Pour 1 or 1 ½ cup water, depending on the depth of your pot. The level of water shouldn’t pass over the stuffed leaves, it should be in the middle. And pour ½ cup olive oil on it. Put the lid on the pot and cook it on the lowest heat for about 2 hours. Then check it if it’s done. If the rice in it is cooked enough, that’s fine. Take it from fire and let it cool. Then you can take it on a service plate and garnish it with lemon slices.