Stuffed Grape Leaves and zucchini (Wara’ Enab wo kousa)
I almost can’t believe that I’m posting my first recipe on my blog. The first time I thought about starting a food blog was nearly 8 years ago but have always been intimidated by the idea. It always worried me that people are not interested enough or that I might not be able to produce content that is good enough. What has finally encouraged me to start was the fact that I really don’t want the family’s recipes to be lost and go undocumented. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy this blog as much as I am enjoying it and that you’ll find inspiration on these pages.
Now, let’s talk about today’s recipe. It is only fair to start my blog with this recipe, mainly because I love everything grape leaves and if there is only one thing I could eat, it would be this dish. When I was a kid, I was a very picky eater, technically I refused to eat all food, but this has always been my favorite even back then.
Though cooking stuffed grape leaves is definitely laborious, it is so worth it. I still remember the first time my sister and I gathered around the table to help my mom rolling. I must have been 9. I was so excited about being part of the process and the fact that I rolled my leaves neatly. The thing about these types of dishes is that they bring people together during sourcing the ingredients, preparing the food, cooking and eating it. In spring, my siblings, cousins and I would spend hours in my grandparents’ garden picking the grape leaves. My grandma would give us specific instructions, the leaves shouldn’t be large enough to roll, the really small ones should be left untouched and we shouldn’t get near the grapes. I loved unripe grapes so much that I sometimes picked a few without anyone noticing. Then it was time to remove the stems and stack the leaves based on size. Grape leaves would then be submerged in simmering water for 20 – 30 seconds to soften, allowed to cool and then frozen to be consumed all year long.
This is not the only way to cook stuffed grape leaves, there is also a vegetarian recipe that is a favorite in my family, which I will hopefully share along the way. My recipe here is the Palestinian way to cook it, but all Arabs have different ways of cooking it, mainly by changing the stuffing and the cooking liquid. Also, some people cook it with lamb chops, which all my family really likes. However, I am not a big fan of lamb, so I prefer cooking it this way.
In my family, we like our grape leaves super tangy, so feel free to reduce the amount of lemon juice to ½ a cup. You can also cook it in stock, broth or tomato juice instead of water, but water is just fine and allows the taste of the grave leaves to shine. Once you try this, you’re converted. The tangy melt in your mouth zucchinis and grape leaves are unbelievably good.
I know this is not the type of weekday quick recipes people usually look for, but this is a recipe for celebrations and special occasions that is worth the effort you put into it. Give it a try and you won’t regret it.
Stuffed grape leaves and zucchini
- 8 zucchinis
- 350 g grape leaves*
- 2 tomatoes optional
- 3 cups rice
- 500 g minced meat
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1.5 tsp Salma’s spice
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt
- Water as needed
- Wash the zucchinis and remove the top. Using a squash corer, which is very similar to an apple corer, core the zucchinis carefully.
- Wash thoroughly with water and set aside.
- Prepare grape leaves. (see note below)
- Mix all ingredients under stuffing together in a bowl.
- Fill ¾ of each zucchini with the stuffing.
- Take one grape leaf at a time, shiny side down, and add 1 to 2 tsp of the stuffing towards the stem of the leaf. (depending on the size of the leaf).
- Fold both sides of the leaf towards the center and roll from the broad stem to the top.
- Repeat until you finish all your stuffing. If you have any grape leaves left, they can be frozen.
- Slice tomatoes into 4 thick slices, if using and place at the bottom of the pressure cooker. Tomatoes adds flavor and tanginess to the cooking juices.
- Place grape leaves next to each other without leaving any gaps to form one layer.
- Place all zucchinis in a single layer and then place the rest of the rolled grape leaves.
- Dissolve 1 tsp salt in lemon juice and ¼ cup of water then add to the pressure cooker.
- Cover and cook on manual pressure for 45 minutes.
- Serve with yogurt on the side.
If cooking on stove top:
- Repeat all steps until step 11.
- Dissolve 1 tsp of salt in enough water to barely cover the grape leaves.
- Bring to a gentle simmer and cook covered for 1.5 hours on medium heat.
- Add lemon juice and continue cooking for an additional 30 – 45 minutes until rice and grape leaves are cooked through.