Now that I’m off for summer vacation, I’ve gotten excited to experiment more in my kitchen! A recent conversation with my aunt about her favorite middle eastern restaurant got me thinking about how much I miss eating my mother’s stuffed grape leaves. Unfortunately, mom has decided in recent years that she has no patience for cooking so I knew I’d have to recreate myself if I was going to eat them. Thankfully, she taught me how. (And after tasting them has given me her vote of approval!)
The following recipe is one that has been passed down from my great grandmother. She had to improvise on some ingredients that were not readily available in supermarkets or specialty stores in the early 60’s. Now, we have lots of variety and wonderful ethnic groceries that carry all kinds of delicious things. I will give you both the “improvised” version my great grandmother taught my mom (in parenthesis) and the actual ingredients in the version that I made.
1 pound of ground lamb (ground beef)
1 pound of thinly sliced lamb shoulder (chicken breasts)
1 cup of rinsed white rice
1 tsp. curry powder
1 box of mensaf yogurt based soup starter (1 1/2 blocks of cream cheese)
3 + cups of chicken broth
1 jar of preserved grape leaves
Directions for Set Up and Leaf Assembly:
Directions for Sauce and Cooking:
This is the main way my version differs from the way my great grandma taught my mom. She had to resort to mixing cream cheese and chicken broth in the blender to create the tangy taste of “yogurt” soup that the leaves are cooked in. I don’t think the current Greek Yogurt trend was a “thing” back in the 60’s and there most certainly weren’t many Middle Eastern specialty shops in Miami. LOL! The problem with this is that, while it does taste delicious, it separates and looks curdled once cooked. If your grandma makes it and you know it tastes amazing you overlook this sort of thing… but if you want to serve it to guests… not a good thing.
On a trip I made to Jordan with my sister a few years ago, however, we discovered a dish called Mensaf. I had never heard of it before but the minute we put that piece of lamb cooked in yogurt sauce into our mouths, my sister and I gave each other a wide eyed look of recognition. “It tastes just like the sauce mom cooks the grape leaves in!” When I got back, it was my own grandmother who inadvertently taught me that they actually HAVE the yogurt base for that dish pre-packaged at middle eastern stores. (She has an obsession with purchasing everything from spices she won’t use to dishes and incense there, lol.)
I hope you enjoy eating them as much as we have for such a long time. I’d also love to hear your feedback if you decide to try the recipe out or have your own grape leaf recipe you’d like to share!!!