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Meat and Rice-stuffed Vine Leaves Stewed with Beans

Yaprakes

Vine leaves stuffed with meat, rice and fresh herbs and stewed with beans is perhaps the most well-loved and treasured dish characteristic of Sephardic home-cooking from Rhodes. Yaprakes, derived from the Turkish word yaprak or leaf, is a version of the Greek dolmas. Although this recipe may seem challenging at first and is a little time consuming, it is a good time to have friends or family involved in stuffing and rolling the vine leaves as it’s really fun and a grounding way to connect with loved ones.

 

For the beans:
2 cups (400g/14oz) dried cannellini or haricot (navy) beans, soaked overnight in twice their volume of cold water, drained and rinsed
1 small onion, peeled
2 dried bay leaves
3 fresh sage leaves
1 tsp sea salt

 

For the meat:
2 tbsp olive oil
500g (1lb 2oz) veal shin, cut into chunks, or lamb chops
1 onion, peeled
2–3 cups hot chicken stock

 

For the leaves:
450g (1lb) fresh, young, tender vine (grape) leaves or brine-preserved leaves

 

For the filling:
500g (1lb 2oz) minced (ground) lamb or beef
⅔ cup medium-grain rice, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, rinsed and drained
½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (use leaves and tender stems)
½ cup finely chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup canned chopped tomatoes
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp finely ground white pepper

For cooking:
2 ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup hot water
sea salt and finely ground white pepper
1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch) dissolved in 2 tbsp cold water

 

For serving:
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 lemons, cut into wedges

 

Cook the beans: Put the beans in a large pan with enough cold water to cover by 2.5cm (1in). Add the onion and bay and sage leaves. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 1½ hours or until they are tender but not mushy. The cooking time depends on the quality and age of the beans. Check frequently as they cook, adding more hot water as necessary. Add the salt in the last 10 minutes of cooking. When the beans are tender drain in a colander and discard the onion and herbs.


Cook the meat: Heat the oil in a large, deep, heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat. Add the veal or lamb and cook until lightly browned. Add the onion and pour enough hot stock to cover. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 50 minutes or until the meat is very tender. Add hot water as necessary. Reserve the cooking liquid and keep at a simmer.


Prepare the leaves: Blanch the vine leaves in boiling water for 3 minutes, in batches, then refresh in cold water and drain. Drape the vine leaves over the edge of a colander to drain thoroughly.

 

Make the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.
 

Stuff the leaves: Lay a few vine leaves at a time on a work surface, vein side up, with the stem towards you. 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 the remaining leaves until all the filling is used.
 

To cook: Add half the cooked beans to the pan with the meat. Arrange the stuffed leaves side-by-side, seam side down, over the beans, packing them tightly in concentric circles. Place the sliced tomatoes over the stuffed vine leaves. Scatter over the remaining beans. Weigh the stuffed vine leaves down with an inverted heatproof plate large enough to fit the pan to keep the yaprakes from unravelling during cooking. Combine the hot reserved cooking liquid from the meat, lemon juice, oil, hot water and salt and pepper in a jug and pour down the inside of the pan, just enough to cover the yaprakes. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the filling has cooked. Shake the pan from time to time
so that the cooking liquid circulates. Add hot water as necessary. Add the cornflour mixture to the sauce and cook for a further 5 minutes, swirling the liquid around for the sauce to seep through evenly. Test one stuffed leaf to ensure the leaves have softened and the filling is cooked. Taste for salt and lemon juice.

 

To serve: Remove the plate and carefully transfer the contents into a deep serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and serve hot with a tomato rice pilaf and lemon wedges.

Twists on Tradition:

  • ŠŠYou can substitute 3 x 400g (14oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained, for the dried beans.

  • 3–4 whole garlic cloves can be slipped in between the stuffed leaves before cooking.