Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 2010 Daring Cooks Challenge - Confessions of a over-stuffer aka Stuffed Grape Leaves

I know there are people out there just like me. Those of us that just can't resist filling the cupcakes too full so we have muffin tops. Those of us that stuff a taco or burrito so full of stuff it won't close all nice and neat like those pictures we so envy.

We can't help it really. We look at those empty grape leaves and think - well, they can't possibly mean 2 teaspoons of filling - that grape leaf is so BIG! It's just crying for more stuffing! I must have bought grape leaves that were too big for this challenge!

This challenge can help you, my friend. Of course, it didn't help me much, until about 1/2 way through it. That's when I realized I was working with UNCOOKED RICE, and my grape leaves were going to become grape shrapnel scattered throughout rice if I didn't, at least temporarily, eliminate my urge to over-stuff. I did, and ended up with about 1/2 of my grape leaves still intact after cooking, and about 1/2 looking like a teddy bear the dog has chewed up with their stuffing showing from little tears and holes throughout.

Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

My first "challenge" was finding grape leaves. I thought for sure that Cost Plus would carry them. Nope...After a store rush that included 4 grocery stores, I finally found them...but they were $7/jar! Oh well, it's a challenge, it will be fun! So I bought them, and they sat in my kitchen for 2 weeks, taunting me.

While I'm a fan of Middle Eastern Food, I'm not that much a fan of stuffed Grape leaves. My friend Georgia used to make them once in a while, and they were good. BUT, there was a spice in there that I just didn't care for. Now I know it's the combination of dill, mint, and the preserved grape leaves that I don't care for, so if I ever make these again, I will downplay the dill significantly.

That being said, this challenge was fun. I could appreciate the final product, and I stuck close to the vegetarian recipe provided - adding only roast eggplant to the stuffing. I also sliced a lemon in thin slices and placed it over the grape leaves before adding the oil and water, just because I remember Georgia doing something similar.

Would I do this recipe again? Probably not, but I really did enjoy doing it. Thank you again Lori, for such a fun and "challenging" challenge! I am going to include the recipe as written and provided by Lori, for those of you out there that want to try a very nice recipe!

Wara Einab or Dolma/Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food a Borzoi Book, published by Alfred A. Knopf

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


24 – 30 preserved or fresh grape leaves.
1¼ cups (300 ml) (9 oz) (250 gm) long grain rice
1- 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped or 4 tablespoons (60 ml) (35 gm) finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (25 gm) finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) crushed dried mint
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) ground allspice
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6½ gm) dill
Salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, sliced **optional**
3 or 4 cloves garlic
2/3 cup (160 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) sugar
Juice of 1 lemon or more


If using grape leaves preserved in brine, to remove salt put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Make sure that the water penetrates well between the layers, and leave them soaking for about twenty minutes, then change the water a time or two using fresh cold water.

If using fresh leaves, plunge a few at a time in boiling water for a few seconds only, until they become limp, and lift them out.


1.Pour boiling water over the rice and stir well, then rinse with cold water and let drain.

2.Mix the rice with the chopped tomatoes, onion or scallion, parsley, mint, cinnamon, allspice, dill, salt and pepper to taste.

3.Place a grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up.

4.Place about two teaspoons (10 ml) of the filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge.

5.Roll the leaf end to end, starting from the stem edge. As you roll, fold the sides of the leaf in toward the center. The leaf should resemble a small cigar, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches (50 mm to 65mm) long.

6.Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
a.(You can freeze the stuffed grape leaves at this point. Just line a baking sheet with wax paper. When firmly frozen, transfer to an airtight plastic bag place back in the freezer.)

7.Pack the stuffed leaves tightly in a large pan lined with tomato slices or imperfect grape leaves Place a whole garlic clove in between them for extra flavor. The tightness will help prevent the rolls from unraveling.

8.Mix together olive oil, 2/3 cup (160 ml) water, sugar and lemon juice and pour over the stuffed leaves. Put a small heat proof plate on top of the leaves to prevent them from unwinding, cover the pan and simmer very gently for about 1 hour, until the rolls are thoroughly cooked, adding water occasionally, a cup at a time, as the liquid in the pan becomes absorbed. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve cold.


  1. Great job! The addition of the eggplant sounds like a great match for the recipe, as well. Glad you had fun with the challenge!

  2. Wonderful you had such fun on this challenge your attitude is superb. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  3. Nice job! I'm with ya on the over sutffing of all things delicious. haha Glad that some turned out good for you.

  4. I think the best thing about cooking is when you start to realize what a combination of ingredients tastes like. Once you know what you like, and more importantly don't like, you can modify the recipe to exactly what you like!! I'm the same with overstuffing... I made a stuffed eggplant once that was so overstuffed that it was NOT fit for photos.

  5. @shelly c. - Thanks! This recipe is a perfect example of why I joined Daring Cooks/Bakers - the challenge to do things I would not normally do and learning things in the process.

    @Audax - Thank you! You are a continual challenge inspiration to me.

    @Becca - Thanks. They all sort of turned out, but you can tell by my pic that some of them were a bit..err, tattered! Tasted the same, though. They just weren't ready for their closeup!

    @blepharisma - Yes, that's one of the reasons I love cooking. I like to think I have pretty good tastebuds, and am usually pretty good at identifying things in recipes (and creating things I find in restaurants at home). This recipe just stumped me a bit, since I normally really like dill (mainly with Salmon or potatoes), and mint. Sometimes it's just the combination that gets you.

    I don't think I will ever reform my overstuffing ways. I try and try, and it rarely seems to work for me. The only thing I don't overstuff is wontons, and I even overstuff some of those!

  6. I too tend to overstuff... And my rolls unravled and exploded... oops! Your end result looks quite good, and I agree with you about this being the reason why I joined the Kitchen!!! Great work!