Yabrak – Stuffed Grape Leaves
Middle East style grape leaves stuffed with rice, lamb and spices then simmered until tender
In late June, I was out for a bike ride on the St. Lawrence recreational trail when I noticed a patch of healthy wild grape vines. I thought, these young leaves are just perfect for making stuffed grape leaves. I had in mind a delicious Syrian recipe that I hadn’t had in years. So, I picked about 60 of the tender young leaves, packed them on my bicycle rack, brought them home and dug through my old recipe box.
I got this recipe years ago when I was first introduced to the dish by a Syrian family who immigrated to Canada. The ingredients in this dish are common to many traditional dishes in Syria and Lebanon. While most may be familiar with the Greek Dolmades, which are similar and often served as an appetizer, the Syrian recipe includes meat and more seasoning, making it hearty enough for a main course, especially if served warm.
- 60 Grape Leaves
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1 cup converted rice rinsed and drained
- 2 lemons juiced
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp fresh ground pepper
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tbsp allspice ground
If using fresh grape leaves, remove the stems, then blanch them in boiling water just until they change colour (about 30 seconds). Drain well and separate and place the leaves on tea towels to dry.
Add the lamb, rice, half of the lemon juice, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper to a large mixing bowl and blend well.
Place a layer of the smallest or broken leaves in the bottom of a large pot with a lid (about 10-inch diameter). The pot must be a litter bigger than the plate you will be placing inside later.
Place a leaf, vein side up, on a flat surface, then place about 1 tbsp of the stuffing mixture near the bottom centre of the leaf. Tuck in the bottom and sides then roll up tightly like a cigar.
Place the rolled leaf, seam side down neatly in the pot. Repeat, placing rolled leaves closely together.
Cover the top layer of rolled leaves with a few extra leaves.
Pour the remaining lemon juice over the leaves in the pot.
Place an inverted plate on top of the leaves.
Add enough water to reach the plate.
Cover the pot and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 35 minutes.
Turn off heat and allow to cool for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Serve warm or cold. Garnish with lemon, yogurt, tzatziki, or Syrian cucumber-yogurt salad. You can replace the lamb with ground beef. Since grape leaves aren’t always easy to find, you can pick them in season and freeze them or you can buy them by the jar from a Mediterranean grocer.