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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Among the many delicious plates we all share in the Levant, Wara’ Inab (Stuffed Grape Leaves), also known as Wara’ Dawali is certainly the flagship of Tartoussi cuisine. It is by far the most important entrée, offered on special occasions and enjoyed anytime by the entire family. Everybody likes well prepared, freshly green grape leaves with a succulent heap of mutton meat and bones. I have to admit that this is not one of the easier recipes to prepare. It requires some hard work and plenty of time as with all the good things in life. Groundwork starts either early in the morning or one day in advance. I am certain that those who have had the pleasure of repeatedly eating this dish agree with me that it’s worth all the trouble, but it should be mentioned to those who hadn’t been fortunate yet. Wara’ Inab is a culinary masterpiece and it certainly deserves international recognition as one of the most significant achievements of the human imagination and determination in creating an edible objet d’art.

There are two main variants to Stuffed Grape Leaves. The first one is the light version and it consists of grape leaves stuffed with rice & vegetables only, called Yalangi in Arabic (from Turkish no doubt) and Dolmades in Greek. This dish is prepared with olive oil and lemon juice and is totally vegetarian. It is easier to put together than the second recipe and is considered an appetizer or a plate of Mezza. If enough interest is generated to write another post about it I will certainly oblige. The second recipe, the topic of this post, is a main entrée and is often the centerpiece of the table.
OK, let’s roll our sleeves and get at it.

Ingredients:

-2 cups of Rice short grain
- ½ Kg ground lamb meat
-1 ½ to 2 Kg of lamb meat and bones + ¼ Kg of (optional) lamb fat (a friendly butcher is a definite plus if you live in the west).
-1 kg of fresh and tender (not too large) grape leaves. Canned grape leaves are an acceptable substitute but be warned: they don’t taste the same. In this part of the world we buy the grape leaves in season and freeze them in individual vacuumed wraps of 1 Kg each. They fall in between fresh and canned grape leaves as far as their taste is concerned.
-6 sticks of cinnamon
-8 whole cardamom pods
-4 bay leaves
-½ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
-1 cup of fresh lemon juice
-4 cloves of garlic
-Salt & pepper




Preparation:

-The ground lamb meat is cooked briefly over medium fire until light brown. Then it’s mixed with the rice along with salt and pepper (as per taste).
-Individual grape leaves are stuffed with the rice & meat mixture as per attached photos (above) and kept aside.
-The lamb meat and bones are placed in a large pot of water and brought to a boil for 5 minutes. The water is thrown away and the meat and bones are moved to a new clean pot. -Fresh water is added and brought to a boil along with the cinnamon sticks, the cardamom pods, the bay leaves and the grated nutmeg. Cooking time 2 hours over low heat.
-The lamb meat and bones are removed from the sauce and evenly distributed on the bottom of another pot. The stuffed grape leaves are arranged over the lamb and on top of each other in a tight circular pattern and the cloves of garlic are thrown in.
-The sauce is added until it covers all the grape leaves. Some heavy cover is used to press the grape leaves in place so they don’t get disfigured during the cooking. The top of a smaller pot is ideal along with some heavy object to keep it steady in place (how about a brick!)
- Once the sauce starts boiling (visible from the edges of the smaller top), reduce heat to minimum and cook undisturbed for 2 ½ hours. Remove top, add 1 cup of lemon juice, and cover with top again for ½ hour.
- Get a circular serving pan larger in diameter than the cooking pot and place it on top. With one swift movement turn upside down so that the lamb is on top of the grape leaves now.
- Serve and enjoy. The above quantity should be enough for 5 people with some delicious leftovers for the next day.
- In Tartous we serve stuffed grape leaves with salted yogurt on the side, green mint leaves and peeled garlic.



Eat as much as you can since you don't get this everyday. Release your belt buckle. Lean back in a lazy chair. Have some tea. Savor the after taste of garlic. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty of what you have just done (you’ve definitely over-eaten, but so what). Think about tomorrow and the leftovers in the fridge. Smile and be happy, that’s all.


Photos illustrating how to roll the grape leaves in this post are courtesy of What’s Cooking America .

Photos of the actual dish and plate taken by Abu Fares. Actual plate consumed by Abu Fares. Leftovers eaten by Abu Fares. Actual dish prepared by Om Fares. This is her recipe as well.
For a step-by-step instruction on how to stuff and roll the grape leaves only (not the recipe itself), check out the photos offered by Nancy Gaifyllia at http://greekfood.about.com/od/greekcookinglessons/ss/foldleaves.htm . She uses a totally different Greek recipe with beef and pork, but the rolling is the same.

33 comments:

GraY FoX said...

ya salam,
since you have mentioned the leftovers, i would like to have some since i'm the first to comment here :)
there's a proverb we say in damascus about this dish

"Sheghlo Ma2et, w Aklo La2et"

sa7ten for this masterpiece that is more important in humanity history than picasso's masterpieces

The Syrian Brit said...

Mouth-watering, lip-smacking fantastically delicious post, as usual!..
However, a point of order is needed here!..
This dish is most definitely not purely Tartoussi.. I maintain that this is a Levantine, pan-Syrian dish, with minor regional variations, mostly in relation to the spices used.. (Mind you, if all your claims were to be taken seriously, then there is no Syrian cuisine, but Tartoussi cuisine only!!..)..
Wherever the dish originated from, I agree entirely that it is a culinary masterpiece, and an edible objet d'art
With any luck, we will be having some on Saturday, as we have some Iraqi friends coming over, and they have specifically requested that my wife prepares it!.. (you see, I have to rely on such occasions to enjoy these special dishes!..)

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Wow….my tasting buds are being tempted once again!
For some reason, the moment I saw your post is about stuffed grapes leaves, I scrolled down to the ingredients to see whether you have included the garlic or not! I don’t know what I was thinking….I think I am just missing those delicious meals!
Thanks for the deliciously illustrated post Abu Fares…
P.S.: Stuffed Grapes Leaves, is also known in Aleppo as “Yabra’a”

abufares said...

GraY FoX
Not the leftovers at all, Sidr Al-Tawleh Ilak any time. There are still plenty of dishes to talk about. I haven't even started with fish and seafood.

Syrian Brit
My wording was probably suggestive and led you to conclude that I believe that Wara' Inab is a Tartoussi invention. Not at all, I've had this dish in almost every Syrian and Lebanese city I've been to. There are minor variations but all in all, it tastes great everywhere. But in Tartous, we consider Wara' Inab as the most important single dish, thus, for example, every house in Tartous (real Tartous that is) will have Wara' Inab on the first day of the Eid. Sa7a Wa Hana for your guests and of course you.

Dubai Jazz
What would Wara' Inab be without garlic, and for us in Tartous, salted yogurt.

You know what I really think we should all get together one day and eat till we drop. How about this summer guys, what are you all doing? Aren't you coming to Syria? Let's start planning for something big.

Ihsan said...

Oh my god!

Another post to make my life more miserable!!

Thanks Abu Fares...

:\

abufares said...

Come on Ihsan
Don't tell me you're not getting any of the real stuff. From what I hear about Syrians in Canada, they are right at home especially with food.
Anyway, my suggestion for a summer get together includes you and everyone who happens to read these lines.

Sam... said...

Abufares....

Please... Please have mercy on our poor souls....
this is my favorite meal....
and i tried to get here... but na....
what ever they do or where ever i go .... it does not taste the same...

:(((

abufares said...

Sam
See my response to Ihsan regarding the proposed get together. Needless to say, we look forward to your presence.

Lujayn said...

Hmmmm, never tasted Tartousi yabra'a but our Aleppine version is to die for. My mom makes a wicked yabra'a, very garlicky and lemony, but I dont think she uses those exact same spices you listed. Just what I need, stuck in the office slaving over a boring report - homesickness for my mom's cooking!

abufares said...

Hello Lujayn
Most of the spices we add are to make the meat and bones as clean and fresh tasting as they could ever be. The Aleppine version is very close to the Tartoussi. We like our Stuffed Grape Leaves juicy, that is we like to serve it with sauce in the platter.
A couple more hours at work I bet, then you can eat to your desire. And Aleppo is just about the perfect place to do that.

Lujayn said...

Don't I wish! I'm here in Dubai and my mother is far away in Aleppo (on a visit - we dont live there). Last time I had a home-cooked meal was this summer. Eating to my heart's desire here in Dubai consists of whatever the restaurants near my house have on their menu! I'm only blessed with Aleppine roots, not their flair for cooking.

Lujayn said...

Actually, I've always tried to convince my mom to throw in the rice mixture and the grapeleaves into one pot without rolling them (why bother, when I love them soggy and mushy anyway?) but she wont listen. I guess its an affront to her cooking sensibilities. However, I may attempt my lazy version one day :)

Rime said...

LOL, I thought we were only arguing about food origins on my blog. This is fun! Actually, I hear it's originally Turkish but let's keep this between us.

I really didn't know that there was a version with burghul! Since you mentioned it Abu Fares, I think it is your patriotic duty to prove it by demonstrating with the real stuff!

As usual, yummy yummy yummy! Even if you didn't even leave us leftovers. (Do you agree that some foods are even better as leftovers?)

abufares said...

Lujayn
For some reason I assumed you were in Aleppo. Wara' Inab in Dubai... nah, you'd better wait till the bike ride.

Rime
Alhamdillah 3al Salameh. You've been greatly missed you know.
My affinity for Burghul as opposed to rice made me write a crazy thing... Yalangi with Burghul!? I'll correct it right away. My theory is that most good home cooking of Syria is of Turkish origin (but we'll keep it between us as you've suggested). Who said the Ottomans didn't leave us with any good legacy.
As for leftovers, there's two particular "truly and honestly" Tartoussi inventions that are best comsumed on the second and third day. They are called Fatayer Bi Keshek and Fatayer Bi Zawba3. Thank you for reminding me of pure Tartoussi thoroughbred food. I'll post about them (with pictures) in due time.

abufares said...

You know what dear readers... I feel guilty about something. I gave credit for the pictures. I even gave credit to my heroic effort in eating the fresh and the leftover Grape Leaves. BUT, I didn't even mention that this pictured masterpiece was the creation of Om Fares (Allah Ykhalili Yaha).
I will add a few words at the end of the post.
I hope I made matters right now.

The Syrian Brit said...

Excellent recovery, Abu Fares.. You just get there in time to save your skin, and ensure that this feast is repeated in due course.. Our lovely wives often demand little more than recognition of their valliant efforts.. and, boy, don't they deserve that recognition!!..
As for leftovers being best, just ask my daughter!.. She loves fatet maqdous, but loves it even more next day!!.. and many other delights of our food, glorious food, are so much better a day or two afterwords!..
(I can't wait to hear about Fatayer Bil Keshek and Fatayer Bil Zawba3, whatever they are!!..)

abufares said...

Hi Syrian Brit
You're right, just in the nick of time. From now on I'll make sure to give credit to the chef.
Leftovers are great. I just asked my daughter and she replied: "Wara' Inab". She doesn't have any idea about this post. Personally, I like stuff with olive oil as leftovers, take for instance Baba Ghannouj :)))
And finally, in order to avoid possible conflicts with Damascenes and Aleppines, I'm going to dig deep in the Tartoussi repertoir of good and delicious food. Take for instance "Shanklish" made in some very specific villages around the Tartous area, I hope I don't hear from a Homsi claiming that it is their own. Shanklish is one of the least talked about traditional Syrian (shall I say cheese), yet... yet... I know what, I'm going right now (8:45PM local), fix myself a sphere of (Eres) Shanklish with some olive oil and a stud of onion (Fa7el Bassal) with an Okrok 3ajam glass of tea... the rest is history!
For those unfamiliar with Shanklish... coming soon a whole post dedicated to the little smelly, yet deliciously tasty whatchamacallit.

Robin said...

Hi Abu Fares,
Well, here you go making my mouth water first thing in the morning. Stuffed grape leaves for breakfast anyone? Why not!! When I was in Beirut (back when the dinosaurs still wandered the earth) I was given a "lesson" in rolling grape leaves. They were for our own consumption and thank goodness my family wasn't too concerned with what they looked like. Haya's were small and compact, in other words, the were NORMAL. Mine came out looking like Cuban cigars, funny looking fat things that stood out like sore thumbs on the platter!! These things are NOT easy to roll the first time around, but cigar or no cigar, they are the yummiest things on the planet. I think I'll try your recipe and see if they come out looking the right way! Now to go searching in the across town Arabic markets for all the right ingredients, a pleasure in it's own right.

abufares said...

Hi Robin
Sahha Wa Hana.
The fact that you've already tried this delicious meal is enough of a motive for you to do it on your own in the States this time.
Please let us all know when and how the Wara' Inab turns out:)

The Syrian Brit said...

You lucky so-and-so!.. Eres Shanklish with some olive oil, Fa7el Bassal, and Shai Okrok 3ajam!.. This must be Heaven that the Almighty God has promised the true believers!..

Rime said...

This is hilarious - it never occurred to me that you wrote burghul meaning to write rice. Knowing how seriously you take your food, I just assumed it was me who was ignorant!

My aunt makes killer "koussa mehshi" - really to die for - and it is even better the next day. Now that's luxury leftovers if you ask me.

Describing your shanklish plans is just cruel. I'm not even a great fan, I just like it normally, but now that's all I can think about! With the tea, the real tea. Allah yesamhak ya Abu Fares.

Ihsan said...

Well, not in the part of Canada that I'm currently in...actually, there is nobody in the part of Canada that I'm in but me and some potato farmers/heads!

Last month I was in Montreal and was so happy to find dried Mlokhieh leaves (my all-times favourite dish is mlokhieh)....so I'd been so excited until I was back and went to buy what I needed!I couldn't find coriander..kezbara khadra....and as far as I know...mlokhieh must have kizbara...

Well...the point is....idi bzinarak Abu Fares...advise me on alternative ways to cook mlokhieh considering I'm in a very westren community that has no sort of contact with the outside word..i.e. the rest of Canada....thus, no fancy, spicy, and tasty food ingredients to be found.

As for the get together...that would be a great idea, I have already met with many of the Syrian bloggers, of whom you know, Omar, yazan and greyfox. Unfortunately, I'm not going home this summer (this is why I desperatly need my dose of mlokhieh).

Lujayn said...

Ihsan,
Dried coriander works just as well (according to my mom) when the fresh stuff isnt available. I'm sure they have dried coriander out in the netherlands of Canada.

Anonymous said...

isn't the greek version with burghul...when I was a kid I used to call this dish me7shi nunu = the small me7shi

DUBAI JAZZ said...

And I thought I am the only 7alabi reader of this blog in Dubai, who on a Wednesday afternoon has end up missing the garlic in mom’s yabra’a, specially after reading the most delightful Wara’ Inab post. I guess it’s small world isn’t it Abu Fares?
BTW; sign me up for the get together, I will be there on September (Inshallah)..

abufares said...

Ihsan
Lujayn gave you the answer I had in mind. I hope you get your way around this final hurdle and eat your Mloukhieh.

Anonymous
I have tried Yalangi Bi Burghul one time at a restaurant in Lattakia. It was the first and only time for me. Although I'm a Burghul lover, I think that God meant Yalangi with rice.

Dubai Jazz
We should really work on a reunion in Syria this coming summer Inshallah.

Lujayn said...

Sorry Abu Fares for trespassing on your "zinar" :))

Marhaba Dubai Jazz, glad to see (read) other Aleppines

Ihsan said...

Lujayn, Abu Fares,

Thank you so much..I do have dried coriander....I'll try it!

Allahu akbar!

ArabLady said...

!!!
Sho wuts up man! hmmm niyala em Feras if u help her in kitchen... the dish looks yummmy esp its presentation..sa7teen w hana..sorry for the tagging thing..not into this business but thx anyway

take care..keep up the good work

Cheers

abufares said...

Arab lady
In all honesty my only contribution was the eating and photgraphing bits. I didn't help Om Fares at all.
As for tagging, no problem at all.
Have a good time.

ArabLady said...

mmmm well i dunno why i thought that u could be a bit different ..anyways sa7tteen

Piscean Rubble said...

You see, if I do a little archive reading, I learn even more things. I always wanted to make Dolmades (Greek style stuffed grape leaves) but the one time I tried I couldn't get the leaves to stay rolled up. Now I know...shokran jazillan Abu Fares!! Om Anastasio

abufares said...

@Om Anastasio
Try it the Greek and the Tartoussi ways. They are both delicious.
Note that I have said Tartoussi and not Syrian. It really is a dish that varies from city to city. And whether the readers of this blog agree or not, ours, the Tartoussi Way, is the best.