Stuffing the grape leaves takes some practice and patient and is time consuming, but the end result is so worth the effort! It’s one of those fun recipes that you can get together with few of your friends and make a double batch; they are great to have it as leftovers. You could keep them in refrigerator up to one week.
These can either be a main dish or an appetizer, depending on your appetite. Serve with wheat pita bread and a Cucumber Yogurt Sauce, if desired.
• 50-60 fresh grape leaves or 1 jar (16 oz.) brined grape leaves
• 1 large onion, minced
• 2 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1 1/2 cups uncooked long grain rice
• 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped or 2 tablespoon dried parsley
• 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped or 1 tablespoon dried dill
• 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
• 1 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 3 tablespoon olive oil
Rinse the leaves well to remove brine. Jarred grape leaves are very salty from the brine solution. Rinse and drain in a colander. Set aside.
If using freshly picked grape leaves, place the leaves in boiling water and boil for 3 to 5 minutes to soften them and make them more pliable. Remove from water and set aside.
Add the chick peas to boiling salted water and cook till tender about 30 minutes, drain in a colander and set it aside.
Place your rice in a large bowl. Wash rice a few times until the water looks clear. This is a very important step to remove the starch from the rice. Bring salted water to a boil, place the rice in the boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes. Make sure you stir the rice twice with a wooden spoon to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Taste your rice. The grains should be soft on the outside but still firm in the center. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop additional cooking. Toss rice gently in colander and set it aside.
In a large skillet, over medium high, saute the onion and garlic with 3 tablespoon olive oil about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice, parsley, dill, tarragon, chick peas, salt and pepper. Mix them well and remove from heat and allow the filling to cool.
With a sharp knife or scissors, cut out the protruding stems and any hard veins from the grape leave and place it vein side up and stem end toward you on the counter (leaf shiny side down). To stuff the leaves, start with your largest leaves. Take a leaf and carefully spread it. If the leaf is torn or has a hole in it, take a smaller or damaged leaf and use it as a patch, place the leaf over the hole.
Place a tablespoon of filling in the bottom center of the leaf, just above the stem. Fold the bottom section up to cover the filling. Fold the sides in towards the center. Do not fold too tightly. The rice does expand during cooking and may tear the leaf. Repeat with remaining leaves and mixture.
In a large saucepan, place the stuffed leaves in circular layers. 2 to 3 layers maximum. Put a weight on top of the last layer of stuffed grape leaves. I use a ceramic plate and put a jar of pickles on top. This ensure that the leaves to do not move around during cooking. Pour in warm water that will barely cover the first layer and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour or until the leaves are tender and the rice filling is cooked through.