Grape-leaf group therapy

Preparing these delectable treats can be a fun group effort

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Grape-leaf group therapy
Stuffed grape leaves are heady little treats, but we rarely think about making them ourselves. They seem too exotic and complicated for home chow, but what they really need is brawn, not brains. There’s not much to the homey meat filling, but you need lots of warm bodies to man the grape-leaf assembly line. Get a group of pals together, and you can whip up a batch of 50 goodies within two hours. Sounds like a party to me. Here’s a game plan (take a quick read through the method to gather ingredients for your shopping list):
Adapted from Lebanese Cuisine, by Madelain Farah
Team A: Grape-leaf duty. Carefully separate leaves from one 8-ounce jar of grape leaves and rinse them in a pot of hot (but not boiling) water to dilute the brine in which they have been packed. In batches, drain the leaves over a wire rack or on the rim of a colander. Team B: Filling. Rinse 1 cup Egyptian rice (or any short-grain variety) and drain it. Place the rice in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 pound ground beef or lamb, two diced plum tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon each allspice and cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. With clean hands, mix the ingredients well, making sure that they are well combined and that the meat is broken up. Everyone: Assembly line. Place the leaf, vein side up, on work surface. The stem should be closest to you. Scoop approximately 1 teaspoon of filling and place it at the stem end, allowing it to extend the width of the leaf. On each side of the leaf is an end flap. Place the flaps over the filling. Tuck the sides of the leaf, then roll. Alternate tucking flaps with rolling. Do not roll too tightly, or the rice will not expand. Seal the parcel by pressing the end with your finger. Stack the stuffed leaves in a grape-leaf-lined pot, in snug rows.
Team C: Eye on the pot. Add water, enough to cover grape leaves about 3/4 high. Scatter seven cloves of whole, peeled garlic over the leaves. Place a plate on top, one that is small enough to fit inside the pot. Cover and simmer on lowish heat for about 15 minutes. Remove the plate, and pour 1/4 cup lemon juice (about one lemon) over the leaves. Return the plate to the pot, cooking for another 15 to 20 minutes. Check the rice for doneness by removing one stuffed leaf and slicing it in half; the rice should be tender and opaque. Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the leaves to a platter. Pour any remaining cooking liquid over the leaves. The garlic will be soft and mellow, adding to the final dish. Serve at room temperature. If making the grape leaves in advance, let them cool, then refrigerate them, until about an hour before serving. There is enough filling for approximately five dozen grape leaves.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at

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