Grape leaves, especially fresh off the vine, are not something you find here in Shanghai.
As for cooked grape leaves, there are a couple of Greek restaurants who offer it, but to be honest I prefer grape leaves made Lebanese style. And crazy enough there are no Lebanese restaurants in Shanghai! (24 million people and not one restaurant! I know! Crazy!)
This leaves me with one option, bring the leaves with me when I go back to the USA or Lebanon or have my amazing friend in France (Michelle… Woohoo! You got an international shout out! BTW- if you live near Basel, Switzerland Michelle makes the best cupcakes ever! Order a couple of dozen, hide in a corner and devour the whole box!) to pick some up from the Turkish market and give them to Mr. A when he’s in the area.
Frankly, I’ll take the leaves any way I can get them. Canned, jarred, vacuum sealed, whatever. But what kind do I seriously yearn for? That’s easy… Fresh ones! But in case you didn’t know, Shanghai isn’t known for vast grape vineyards.
Actually I found a vine when I was walking in the French Concession once but I wasn’t as bold as I am today. The Recipe Nomad of today would have went to a nearby shop, bought a ladder and picked off every single one of those leaves. When the weather improves, I am going to hunt down that vine! Brace yourself! I’m coming for you!
It’s only with fresh leaves that you get the soft, pliable and tender leaves desiderated by true connoisseurs of grape leaves. They are paper-thin, have very thin veins and are about the size of your hand. This is the perfect leaf for rolling grape leaves.
When I was in the USA this summer, I ended up bottling 3 water bottles full of leaves. I stuffed about 100 leaves in each bottle then poured boiling water and salt in the bottle to preserve them. I did this back in July of 2015 and I just opened the bottle this week… they were still perfect! (A shout out to my sister-in-law Lina for telling me about this method)
My favorite way to enjoy grape leaves is vegetarian-style, dripping in lemon juice and good quality olive oil. I made 104 of them on Sunday and by Monday night my family of 4 (Mr. A isn’t a big fan of vegetarian grape leaves) devoured every last one of them. Had I made 208, they would have also been gone. 316…. 420… probably could have finished that many off by Tuesday morning. They are seriously that good!
There is just as many recipes out there to make Lebanese Vegetarian Grape Leaves as there are to make spaghetti. Some add fresh mint or garlic. I’ve also seen them made with chickpeas and bits of carrots. Others don’t use parsley at all.
It all depends on your taste buds and mine demand that they’re extra sour. When making grape leaves, there are two ways to achieve that coveted acidic taste- lemon juice of course (fresh squeezed! Don’t use that bottle stuff!) and my little secret ingredient, POMEGRANATE MOLASSES.
If pomegranate molasses was a drug I would be highly addicted to it. So much so that I would need my family and friends to hold an aggressive intervention to save me from myself.
I am assuming my followers in China don’t have grape leaves in your pantry. They are not available in conventional markets like Carrefour or CityShop and not on Fields or Epermarket. But do you know where they are available?
Below is my mom’s recipe, adapted a little bit by me. (Wow! 3 Shout outs in one blog post! The joys of having so many great people in my life. **BLESSED**) I tried to make the directions as specific as possible but if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask!
Tell me, have you ever tried grape leaves and did you totally love them?
Vegetarian Lebanese Grape Leaves
- 2 Tomatoes, quartered
- 2 Onions, quartered
- 2 large Bunches Parsley, removed the stem
- 1/2 cup + 2T Olive Oil
- 3 Lemons, divided (2 juiced, 1 sliced)
- 3T Pomegranate Molasses
- 2 cups Rice, rinsed, uncooked
- 1T Salt
- 1/2t Pepper
- 1/2t Allspice
- 100 Grape Leaves, stems trimmed (if using canned, jarred or vacuum sealed, please wash them in hot water to remove the salty brine.)
- 1 Potato, thinly sliced
- 1 Tomato, thinly sliced
- Lemon wedges for garnish
- In a food processor, process the quartered tomatoes. They should be chopped up but a little chunky (not completely liquified). Set aside in a strainer to release the liquid. Once drained, place in a large bowl.
- Next, process the onions until they are small pieces (again do not over-process them to the point that they are liquified). Set aside in a strainer to release the liquid. Once drained, place in the same bowl as the tomatoes.
- DO NOT WASH THE PARSLEY YET! Before washing the parsley, remove the leaves from the stems. Discard thick stems (it’s okay if there are small stems). Process the parsley until finely chopped. You may have to do this in batches. Remove from food processor and wash thoroughly. Drain completely before adding to the tomato-onion mixture.
- To the mixture, add 2T olive oil, rice, juice of ONE LEMON, salt, pepper, allspice and pomegranate molasses. Mix well.
- Lay out one grape leaf, shiny side down with the stem facing you. If there is a stem, remove it. In the center of the leaf, place about 1/2 tablespoon of the rice mixture horizontally across the middle. (Don’t throw away torn leaves. If any of the leaves are torn, you can piece them together to make a solid leaf.)
- Fold the sides together and then roll from the bottom away from you. Repeat with remaining leaves.
- DO NOT DISCARD LIQUID FROM THE RICE MIXTURE. Strain it to remove any loose pieces of rice and set aside.
- Drizzle a little bit of the 1/2 cup of olive oil on the bottom of a heavy-bottom pan. Lay potatoes and a couple of slices of lemon in a single layer to cover the bottom (this will prevent burning the leaves).
- On top of the potatoes, lay the rolled grape leaves tightly in a single row all going one way. Once you’ve covered the first layer, start the second layer going in the opposite direction. Repeat.
- Squeeze juice of one lemon and drizzle the rest of the 1/2 cup of olive oil on top. Then lay the sliced tomatoes, and remaining sliced lemons over the leaves.
- Use a plate the same size as the pot and place it over the leaves. This is done to keep the leaves from floating away. If your plate is not big enough you will have a couple of floaters which you can just remove as they float to the top or try to push them back down under the plater. Place an empty jar full of water on top of the plate to hold it down.
- Measure out reserved liquid from rice mixture and add enough water to equal 4 cups. Pour over around the plate so that the water gets to the leaves. There should be about an inch of water above the grape leaves. Depending on your plate, water should cover the top of it as well.
- Over high heat, uncovered, bring the grape leaves to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.
- After about 30 minutes, remove the plate and continue to simmer for 20 more minutes.
- Monitor the water level. The grape leaves are done when the liquid is absorbed. Test a grape leaf. If the rice is not cooked all the way through and there is no more water, add a little bit of liquid (1/2 cup) and return to simmer.
- When the leaves are done, carefully remove them from the pan one at a time placing them in a plate. If you are brave enough, you can place a large platter on top of the pot then flip the pot over. Try to reposition any that fall into a neat arrangement.
- Best served at room temperature with a side of lemon, but can also be served hot or cold.