Grape leaves have to be one of my all-time, favorite Middle Eastern snacks (and something I deemed impossible to make at home for many years). When I visited Turkey a few years back, I learned a nifty trick for how to make them using a more common green to the West, swiss chard. This would actually work with a number of different greens, but I do have to say the flavor of swiss chard works great – it’s mild and verdant and lets the flavor of the stuffing pop.
Grape leaves are often stuffed with ground meat and/or rice and flavored with mint and lemon. They are part of a group of stuffed vegetables made throughout the Middle East, Greece and Turkey called dolmas.
I kept these guys vegetarian – I feel like they are a bit more delicate that way. A few other things: in lieu of long-grain rice, I used a short-grain one, Egyptian rice, which is one of my favorites! It’s fluffy, rounder, has a great toothsome texture and absorbs flavor beautifully. Also, in lieu of steaming them the traditional way – I lay the leaves on top of stacked lemon slices and let the juice from the lemons steam and infuse them with even more flavor. These are not the most speedy hors d’oeuvres to make, but they are well worth it! And I guarantee by your 48th folding, you’ll be a lot faster…Enjoy!
24 Swiss chard leaves, washed and stems removed (approximately 3 bunches)
2 tbsps unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
½ tsp dried mint
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground black pepper
pinch chili flakes
pinch ground cloves
¾ cup Egyptian rice
1 cup vegetable stock or water
2 tbsps pine nuts, toasted
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp lemon zest
2 tbsps chives and parley, finely chopped
3 or 4 lemons, cut into ½ inch rounds
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Bring a large pot of water up to a boil and prepare a large bowl with ice and water. Add enough salt to make the boiling water taste like the sea. Place the chard leaves in the boiling water for 60 seconds and then shock them in the ice bath. Let dry on paper towels.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic and sauté for 3-4 minutes until shallots are translucent. Add spices and then the Egyptian rice and toast for about 1 minute. Add stock or water and bring up to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook partially covered for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and add pine nuts, lemon juice, lemon zest and herbs. Season to taste, though note that the rice will not yet be fully cooked.
Cut chard leaves down the middle on either side of the seam. Place one leaf rib-side up, vertically in front of you. Add about 2 teaspoons of the rice mixture about an inch up the leaf. Start by rolling the end closest to you away from you to cover the rice. Tuck each side of the chard leaf in and roll the entire parcel. If the leaf is too long, you can cut the other end a bit short. Repeat until you’ve finished the chard leaves and rice mixture.
Layer lemons in a dutch oven or pot with ¼ cup of water. Layer the dolmas on top and drizzle them with a little olive oil. Cover and bake for 30-40 minutes until the rice is fully cooked.
Serve warm or cold.