Stuffed Grape Leaves: A Touch of the Middle East

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Credit: F_A

Dolmades are a variety of stuffed vegetable dishes popular in the Middle East and neighboring regions. The Greeks, the Egyptians and many Mediterranean countries all have their versions of dolma.  Although each region has a different name for this stuffed delight, their versions have a lot in common.

Dolmades or Mahsi Wara’Enab?

The Mideats article “Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice and Ground Beef (Mahshi Wara’ Enab)” describes the Egyptian and Middle Eastern version of stuffed grape leaves: “You take a look at Middle Eastern cuisine, you’ll notice that they have a habit of stuffing things too. Green peppers, onions, tomatoes, Swiss chard, zucchinis/courgette, eggplants, and cabbage are all commonly stuffed – usually with a mix of rice, minced meat, and various spices. In terms of grape leaves, every Mediterranean or Middle Eastern country has a distinguishing mixture. The Greek and Lebanese like lamb in their cuisine, and so they use minced lamb in their dolmades. Egyptians tend to gravitate towards beef, so they stuff their leaves with ground beef instead. Most Egyptian feasts and get-togethers involve a platter of neatly wrapped grape leaves.”

Greek Food expert Lynn Livanos Athan shares her knowledge of stuffed grape leaves inStuffed Grape Leaves with Rice and Herbs – Dolmathakia”. Athan says, The use of grape leaves to wrap food dates back to the days of Alexander the Great. Stuffed with ricepine nuts, and fresh herbs, dolmathakia(dol-mah-THAH-kya) take a little bit of time to prepare, but they are worth the effort. They can be served cold or at room temperature and are a classic Greek appetizer or meze.” Her version calls for grape leaves, rice, pine nuts, dill, and mint.

In “Stuffed Grape Leaves (Egyptian-Style)the AmerArab Wife also gives her version of how stuffed grape leaves are prepared in Egypt. The unnamed author says, “Stuffed vegetables, and particularly stuffed grape leaves, are one of the most famous Middle Eastern appetizers.  There hot versions and cold versions, meat-based stuffings and rice-based stuffings, rolls that are short and fat, and rolls that are long and skinny…”

Her version calls for tomato paste, chicken broth, and finely chopped parsley, cilantro, and dill. She gives detailed advice on how to assemble each stuffed delight: “Assembling the grape leaves: I suggest getting your assembly line set up in this particular order (assuming you are right-handed): grape leaves on the left, cutting board or plate directly in front of you, rice mixture behind the cutting board, and cooking pot to the right.  This will make it easy to keep everything in order.  Take a grape leave and put it vein-side up on the cutting board in front of you, with the base of the leaf closest to you.  Take about 1 tsp. of the rice mixture and spread it in a thin horizontal line as pictured:

“Then, fold the bottom of the leaf up over the rice.  Next, fold the sides in, and then roll the leaf up from the bottom, tucking in any stray pieces.  You should end up with a tight roll; if it’s loose do it will come apart during cooking so you probably want to re-do it.  I usually use my finger as a guide for how big it should be so that they all turn out approximately the same size…”

Wine Pairings

Dolmades, dolmathakia, or mahsi wara’enab is evidently a handmade dish requiring quite a bit of TLC. When stuffed with lamb or beef, stuffed grape leaves would go well with red wine. Wine Combinations’ article on “Spanish Wine and Greek Food” highlights two bottles as excellent matches for stuffed grape leaves: Boutari Naoussa and a 2009 Montebuena from the Rioja region. Planning a candlelight dinner? You can’t go wrong with either bottle and a plate of dolmathakia, so just sit back and enjoy!

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