Stuffed grape leaves. They are tied to the Levant like hamburgers are to the U.S. The stuffed grape leaves. Where do I begin? The Greeks claim theirs are the best; so do the Lebanese, Syrians and Persians. On a smaller scale, My grandmother, my great aunt, my aunt, my other aunt and about twenty other ladies I know back home all claim that their stuffed grape leaves are the best! Of course after each tasting session, I would hear the question, "Which are better, mine or hers, hers or mine......?" Yeah. They never put me on the spot. But over the years, I had come up with a great answer. I would always say, "Your grape leaves are probably the best, but each of yours tastes very different, so it's hard to tell."
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to taste each one of their exquisite recipes. I asked many questions about what goes here, and what goes there. My grandmother had a nice living area in her kitchen, she even had a nice rug in place and a never ending supply of delicious food. I would sit there, eat and ask a lot of questions! Certain tasks were always delegated to me, like squeezing the lemons, fetching the dried mint and black pepper and peeling the potatoes that she would so diligently place at the bottom of the pot before adding the grape leaves.
Squeezing lemons and fetching spices started to become a little mundane, boring at times. I was ready to roll! So I rolled my first grape leaf at age 10, when visiting my grandmother over the summer. I overstuffed it with rice of course! But it felt amazing, especially when I placed it in the pot myself, and looked for it after they were cooked, to eat MY grape leaf!
Sixteen years later, here is how I make mine!
3 cups of jasmine rice
1 bunch parsley
3 medium tomatoes
1 large white onion
a hand full of dried crushed mint
1 tbls black pepper
1 tbls Cayane pepper
1 tsp of salt
2 tbls of sumac (If not available, you can replace with 1 tsp of citric acid powder)
1 tsp of ground Turkish coffee (If not available, it is not necessary to use)
2 tbls of ketchup
Mix everything together in a bowl. Stuff the grape leaves. Below is a video I've made that demonstrates the process.
Place the grape leaves in a pot, add 5 cups of hot water, squeeze another lemon on top of the water, put a plate over the grape leaves to hold them down in the pot, cover and let sit on medium/low heat until fully cooked (usually 1.5 to 2 hours). Keep checking on the water. You might need to add more as needed. If you are not sure if they are cooked, taste one, until the leaf is totally soft, they are not cooked. Enjoy!