Although cabbage, spinach and many other edible leaves can be used for this dish, the best are fresh grapevine leaves, which have a unique aroma and gentle acidity. However, vine leaves preserved in brine can also be used for this excellent main-course dish. They can be purchased packed in jars or sealed in plastic bags at many delicatessens and supermarkets.
Stuffed vine leaves
2 1/2 hours
Makes 32 rolls, enough for 4
500 g / 1 lb beef or lamb, minced or finely chopped
225 g / 8 oz jar or bag of vine leaves
preserved in brine, drained and the stem-ends snipped off
30 ml / 2 tbs oil
200 g / 7 oz onion, chopped
50 g / 2 oz short-grain rice
15 ml / 1 tbs tomato puree
5 ml / 1 tsp paprika
7.5 ml / 1 1/2 tsp salt
30 ml / 2 tbs chopped parsley or 10 ml / 2 tsp dried parsley
10 ml / 2 tsp chopped fresh mint leaves or 5 ml / 1 tsp dried mint, crumbled
30 ml / 2 tbs chopped fresh dill or 15 ml / 1 tbs dill-weed (not seeds)
2.5 ml / 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
oil for brush
For the sauce
45 ml / 3 tbs cornflour
3 medium-sized egg yolks
300 ml /11 oz natural yogurt
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Stuffed vine leave preparation
1- Place the leaves in a large saucepan, fill three-quarters full with cold water and bring to the boil over high heat. Drain.
2- Fry the meat in a large frying-pan over a moderate heat until browned. remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Drain off any fat and discard.
3- Add the oil to the frying-pan and brown the onion. Add the rice and fry it for a few seconds. Stir in the tomato puree, then the meat and the paprika. Add 50 ml / 2 fl oz water and the salt; mix thoroughly off the heat, stir in the herbs and pepper.
4- Put the vine leaves in a bowl of cold water so that you can separate them without tearing them. Lay each leaf, vein side up, on a flat surface. Spoon a slightly rounded tablespoonful of the stuffing on to the leaf near the stalk end. Fold the stalk end over the stuffing, then fold in the two sides to hold the stuffing. Roll up the leaf neatly.
5- Oil the bottom of a large saucepan and cover it with a few torn vine leaves. Arrange the rolls, seam-sides down, in the saucepan, preferably in a single layer, closely packed in circles. If there is to be a second layer, cover the one below with a few vine leaves. Place an inverted dinner plate over the rolls to prevent them from opening up when the rice cooks and begins to swell.
6- Pour enough water over the plate in the saucepan to barely cover it. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, place over a low heat and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours.
7- To prepare the sauce, put the cornflour into a small saucepan and mix it with 45 ml / 3 tbs water, then beat in the egg yolks and the yogurt. Wearing a heatproof glove, hold the plat in position over the rolls, while tilting the saucepan over to drain off the cooking juices into a measuring jug. If necessary, top up the juices with water to make 150 ml / 5 fl oz of liquid, Add this to the cornflour mixture and stir to blend.
8- Put the sauce over the lowest possible heat and, stirring all the time, bring it to the simmering point. Still stirring, simmer for a few seconds, Then cook the sauce to a custard-like consistency, adding a little more water if necessary. Remove from the heat and add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
9- Pour equal amounts of sauce onto 4 heated plates. Arrange the stuffed vine leave rolls, not touching each other, on the sauce. Keep warm until served. Serve with a basket-full of warm dinner rolls and a hearty red wine.
* To use fresh vine leaves (they must be free of chemical sprays), blanch the leaves for 1 minute in a wide saucepan of generously salted, simmering water, turning the leaves over in the water halfway through cooking. Drain the leaves in a colander, rinse them in running cold water and drain them again. Carefully pat them dry with absorbent paper.
* The rolls can be prepared a day in advance up to step 6, if more convenient, but keep them refrigerated until you are ready to complete the cooking. Stuffed vine leaves ready to eat.
Picture credit goes to = www.dinafoods.com