Monday, April 20, 2009

My mother and Deena's waraq 3enab (stuffed grape leaves)

I love the waraq enab or stuffed grape leaves(also known as waraq dawali) that we have at home.  It is lemony, with just the right amount of everything.  It took my mother and Deena (who helps my mother with the housework) years to perfect and now I don't think that it can get any more perfect than this!  It is so popular among our extended family members that sometimes I'd come home to Deena stuffing some grape leaves for one of my Aunts who has an 3azeema (dinner party) that night.  

A few days ago, I was craving our house's waraq enab so I gave my mom a call and asked her for the recipe.  As usual, she didn't give me very specific instructions (she cooks by intuition) so I had to try my best to get all the details needed from her.  Here is the recipe I made. It is not as amazing as my mothers but is still pretty good!  I can't believe how long rolling the grape leaves took but it was worth it at the end.  There is this grape leave roller that they sell in Bahrain which apparently cuts the rolling process by half.  I'll get myself one of those the next time I go.

A bit of background on stuffed grape leaves.  Stuffed grape leaves are a Mediterranean dish specifically from Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Egypt.  However, they are popular all over the Arab world.  Each country, or each cook for that matter has there own specific combination.  I've even heard of a recipe that uses burghul instead of rice (although I've never tried it).   They can be eaten hot or cold but most often, grape leaves that are eaten cold do not contain meat and the ones that are eaten warm contain meat.  My mother makes both the meat and the meatless versions at home, but the meatless version is the one that she is famous for.    We call grape leaves waraq 3enab at home (3 = the gutteral ayn sound) which translates to grape leaves .  But others, such as my husband who is Palestinian calls them waraq dawali which translates to vine leaves.

Anyways here's the recipe:

  • 2 cups of egyptian rice.  You can use other short grain rice varieties such as sushi rice if you can't find egyptian rice.  Never use basmati rice or other long grain varieties.  You don't want to feel each rice grain when eating the stuffed grape leaves.
  • 2 cups of finely chopped onion.  (Approximately 1 large onion)
  • 5 cups of chopped parsley
  • 5 cups of chopped mint
  • 3 cups of chopped tomatoes 
  • 2 cups of lemon juice (around 4 large lemons)
  • 1 1/4 tablespoons of salt, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Sliced potatoes
  • sliced tomatoes (optional)
  • sliced onions (optional)
  • Grape leaves (I used Orlando grape leaves)
  1. Soak the rice in water of 15 minutes (you can chop the other ingredients while waiting).
  2. Mix the onion, parsley, mint, tomatoes and rice together
  3. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice (around 2 lemons) and around 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Mix everything thoroughly making sure not to break the rice
  6. Grease the pot with olive oil
  7. Line the bottom of the pot with some grape leaves.  
  8. Add a layer of tomatoes, and then a layer of sliced onion and sliced potatoes if you wish.  Many cooks only use sliced potatoes
  9. Line a colander with some grape leaves before you begin stuffing.  Add more grape leaves to the colander as needed.  You are doing this because you want the excess brine to drain out.
  10. To stuff.  Take a grape leave.  Sniff the stem off.  Spread the leave out on a plate or a chopping board stem end facing you and shiny side facing down.
  11. Take one heaped teaspoon of the stuffing and place it in the middle of the grape leave next to where the stem begins.  Take the bottom of the leave and bring it over the stuffing.  Then fold in the sides of the leave and begin rolling the leave away from you.  Repeat until you are done.  
  12. As you finish stuffing each grape leave, place it in the pot, open side down, arranging all the grape leaves in rings.  Make sure the stuffed leaves are tightly fit next to each other.
  13. When you are done with a layer in the cooking pot, repeat the process starting on top of the first layer.  Do not fill the pot completely.  Leave around one inch or more of space.
  14. Mix the remainder of the lemon juice with some water.
  15. Pour the lemon-water-mixture into the pot to reach the bottom of the top layer of rolls.
  16. Invert a heatproof plate over the rolls.  This will keep the rolls from opening up.  Cover the pot.
  17. Bring liquid to a boil over high heat.
  18. Reduce to low and simmer for around an hour.  Taste.  If the rice is done, then its done.
  19. You can eat then hot or store them in the fridge for up to two weeks (make sure you drizzle a lot of olive oil on them though so that they do not spoil.
I would love to hear of your version of stuffed grape leaves if you make them.  My blog also contains my sister-in-laws version which is really good too.  I love stuffed grape leaves.  Just the other day, my sister and I were wondering who came up with such a smart idea!