I would be hard pressed to come up with a last meal. I like so many foods, that I’d want something more along the lines of a smorgasbord. But one dish that would certainly be part of that smorgasbord would be stuffed grape leaves — the warm, simple, and oh so heavenly Lebanese version made with a lemony lamb and rice filling. In my very biased view, the versions of stuffed grape leaves that are meant to be eaten cold (usually meatless) cannot compare with their fragrant, hot-out-of the pot counterparts.
For a sublime gastronomic experience, dip these grape leaves in plain yogurt. The cool, smooth tanginess complements them perfectly. See photos below for step-by-step instructions on how to fill and roll grape leaves.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
1 (15-oz. ) jar grape leaves in vinegar brine
1 lb. ground lamb
1 c. white rice, such as jasmine
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. allspice
1 tbsp. salt
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1. Open the jar of grape leaves, pour out the brine, and carefully ease the grape leaves out of the jar. (They will be tightly packed, in rolls.)
2. Put the grape leaves in warm water and let soak while making the filling.
3. For filling, combine lamb, rice, cinnamon, and allspice in a medium bowl, and mix well. Set aside.
4. Gently swish grape leaves around in the warm water, and slowly begin to separate as many as possible, taking care to not tear them. When most have come out of their rolls, drain the water.
5. Line the bottom of a medium saucepan with a layer of grape leaves (this is a good way to use any that are torn or too small).
6. Select a grape leaf and shake to remove any excess water that may be clinging to it. Place it on a cutting board glossy side down (veiny side up). If there is a bit of stem still attached, cut it off (see photo below).
7. Take a bit of filling and shape into a small roll; lay horizontally across grape leaf, just above where the stem was.
8. Fold the bottom part of the grape leaf over the filling.
8. Tuck in each side, as if making a burrito.
9. Continue to roll the grape leaf, folding in the sides as you go.
10. Place the rolled grape leaf seam side down in the sauce pan, tucking tightly against the side of pan.
11. Repeat the process until you have run out of filling. Depending on the size of the saucepan, you should have about two layers of rolled grape leaves. Be sure to tuck them in tightly; you do not want them to unroll while cooking.
12. Sprinkle the 1 tbsp. salt on top of the grape leaves. Add enough water to the pan to just cover the grape leaves. Place an inverted heat-proof ceramic plate on top of the grape leaves (you can also use the lid of a smaller saucepan–you will need something that fits inside the main saucepan and can lay on top of the grape leaves to keep them from shifting while cooking). Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.
13. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 15 minutes. Lift the lid, and pour in the lemon juice (you can pour it around the sides of the plate; it will seep underneath). Replace the lid, reduce heat to low/simmer, and cook for 15 more minutes, checking periodically to make sure the water has not completely dried up. Ideally, the water will be absorbed by the end of the cooking period, but you don’t want to run the risk of burning the grape leaves.
14. After 15 minutes, gently pour out any water that might remain, holding the grape leaves in place with the plate (or small lid).
15. Invert the sauce pan onto a serving platter, discard the grape leaves that lined the pan, and serve the stuffed grape leaves immediately, with plain yogurt as an accompaniment.
Adapted from Lebanese Cuisine, by Madelain Farah.