Monday, March 28, 2011

Brown Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves in Tomato Sauce

I have been addicted lately to stuffed grape leaves sold at Whole Foods.  But since I generally try not to buy pre-packaged foods, (no matter how healthy) I thought I would make my own version at home tonight.  Needless to say, now I understand why it is easy to find stuffed grape leaves as a store-bought convenience.  If you decide to make the recipe that follows, it will be a labor of love, and is quite time consuming.  Although fun to make, I will probably continue to rely on the store-bought variety, except on weekends when I have a considerable amount of time.

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced leek*
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons toasted and chopped pine nuts**
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried savory
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) undrained can crushed tomatoes
  • 24 bottled grape leaves***
1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan; add the rice and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.  Because the rice cooks in nearly double the amount of liquid normally required, expect it to take over an hour, and to be almost like a risotto in consistency by the end.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

2. Heat the canola oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the leek and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, making sure not to brown.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Set aside 1/4 cup of this leek mixture; add the rest of the leek mixture to the cooled rice.

3. Add the parsley, the pine nuts, the currants, the dill, the lemon juice, the lemon rind, the savory, the salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper to the rice as well, stirring to combine; set aside.

4. In a large skillet, combine the reserved 1/4 cup leek mixture, the remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and the crushed tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

5. Carefully remove 24 grape leaves from the bottle - this step is incredibly delicate, since the leaves will be wrapped around one another.  If you tear a couple in the process, you should be all right, since they are generally sold about 60 leaves to the bottle.  Some will also be smaller than others, and you'll want the largest grape leaves of the bunch for this recipe.

6. Carefully rinse the 24 grape leaves you select, and pat dry with paper towels.  Working with 1 leaf at a time, trim the toughest part of the stem from the center of the leaf, using a sharp knife, and discard.  Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the rice mixture into the center of the leaf.  Fold up the sides of the grape leaf, then roll up from bottom to top, jelly-roll fashion.  Place, seam side down, in the tomato mixture.  Repeat with the remaining grape leaves and rice filling.

7. Cover and cook in the tomato sauce over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.  Serve these delicate little appetizers with other Greek-themed tapas (like olives or store-bought tabbouleh salad) for an elegant appetizer. 

*As always, my advice is to slice the leek first, then rinse the slices thoroughly in a colander to make sure you get the dirt from all the layers.

**Toast the pine nuts in a skillet; cook over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes, shaking almost constantly, and keeping watch to make sure they don't cross the line from toasted to burnt.

***Look for bottled whole grape leaves in the supermarket aisle with the olives and bottled roasted peppers.  You will almost certainly see some that are already stuffed (dolmas), so make sure you are just buying the leaves.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (3 stuffed leaves, about 1/4 cup tomato sauce), Calories 148 

Tasting Notes:
I really liked the currants in the filling.  I really liked the savory.  I found that the rest of the filling actually lacked flavor (perhaps my taste buds are tainted from those store-bought grape leaves...).  Either way, the tomato sauce on top was therefore more than just a pretty garnish, but really added to the flavor.  I also didn't love the risotto-like consistency of the rice, and recommend cooking it in the standard 2 cups water, so the grains are cooked but still firm.   Next time, I would also increase the heat slightly during the last bit of cooking, so the grape leaves were more tender and I'd use a bit more salt.


Vegan Extra:
On a side note, I've cooked with several types of rice this month, including short-grain sushi rice and long-grain brown rice.  Rice is great, but I often find myself with large quantities of leftovers, wondering what to do with it.  Here are a couple quick rice side dishes if you feel the same:

Top with hot marinara sauce and your favorite vegan cheese.

Stir in vegan Parmesan sprinkles and dried basil.

Stir in toasted nuts (I used pine nuts and walnuts).

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