Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice & Fresh Herbs
Yalandji de oja de parra kon arroz
Most Sephardic meze and festive tables will include a platter of plump glistening grape leaves stuffed with rice, vibrant fresh herbs, scallions and pine nuts, cooked in olive oil with lemon
and garlic. They are also known as yalandji falso, meaning ‘false’ or ‘lying’ in Ladino, as they are meatless. Served at room temperature, these bites are ideal as an appetizer or meze at a summer lunch accompanied with a yoghurt dip. Despite the stuffing and wrapping of the grape leaves, it is surprisingly easy and immensely satisfying. Rolling may take a little practice but it does make an easy healthy and vegan appetizer – many hands make light work.
450g (1lb) fresh, young, tender grape leaves or 1 jar (450g/16oz) brine-preserved leaves
For the filling:
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup pine nuts
1 large onion, coarsely grated
1 cup finely chopped scallions (spring onions)
11⁄2 cups short-grain rice, such as Arborio rice, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, rinsed and drained
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1⁄2 tsp sugar
1 cup hot vegetable stock or water
1 tsp sea salt
1⁄2 tsp finely ground white pepper
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1⁄2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, use leaves and tender stems
1⁄3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1 large potato, peeled and thickly sliced
2 medium ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
3 garlic cloves
1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups hot vegetable stock or water
1⁄2 tsp sea salt
1⁄2 tsp sugar
Prepare the leaves: Blanch the grape leaves in boiling water for 3 minutes, to soften, in batches, then refresh in a bowl of ice-cold water and drain. Drape the leaves over the edge of a colander to drain thoroughly.
Make the filling: Heat the oil in a large shallow heavy-based pan, (that has a lid), over a medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and fry for 2 minutes until just golden. Drain on paper towels. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the onion and scallions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened.
Add the rice, stirring well for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, hot stock or water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the rice is partially cooked (al dente to the bite) and most of the liquid has been absorbed. (The rice will finish cooking later). Remove from the heat. Toss in the dill, parsley, mint and pine nuts and combine.
Stuff the leaves: Lay a few grape leaves at a time on a work surface, vein side up, with the stem towards you. Cut off the stems. Place a tablespoon of the filling in the centre of each leaf near the stem end. Fold both sides inward over the filling and roll up snugly into a cigar shape. Repeat with remaining leaves until all the filling is used.
To cook: Line the bottom of a large heavy-based pan with the sliced potato and tomatoes. Arrange the stuffed leaves, side-by-side, seam side down, over the vegetable base packing them tightly in concentric circles. Slip the cloves of garlic in between the parcels. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, hot stock, salt and sugar in a jug and pour over the grape leaves. Weigh the stuffed grape leaves down with an inverted heatproof plate large enough to fit the pan to keep the yalandjis from unravelling during cooking. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, until most
of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender but not mushy. Remove from the heat. Place paper towels between the lid and the pan. Let cool to absorb the steam in the pan for about 20 minutes.
To serve: Turn the yalandjis out onto a serving platter. Discard the potatoes and tomatoes. Serve cold or at room temperature with yoghurt, if desired.
Twists on Tradition:
Swiss chard leaves make a tasty and light substitute for grape leaves. Cut away the stalks and ribs and cut the leaves into 17x9cm (61⁄2x31⁄2in) pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 5 seconds and refresh in a bowl of cold water for 1 minute, a few at a time and drain. Fill and cook as above.