“Sophie’s Brown Rice Vegetarian Grape Leaves”

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Lisa:  Did I mention that we are Lebanese?  As such, Sophie’s refined palate LOVES almost any kind of food containing lemon juice.  If you don’t like the flavor of lemon in foods, you just may starve at our house!  One of Sophie’s favorite meals is grape leave rolls.  This variation might make my dear grandmother Pansy roll over in her grave since I’ve substituted white rice with brown.  (Sorry Sittie!)  But the result is a low calorie, high fiber, and healthier variation of the traditional recipe.  Brown rice is a significant source of manganese, a mineral that helps the body to produce a crucial antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD helps to protect mitochondria, the energy producing parts of cells, from free radical damage.  AND brown rice is much higher in fiber than white rice.  This is all so important for our children with Down Syndrome.  Grape leaves are very low in calorie — about 14 calories for every 5 leaves.  They are a good source of vitamins C, E, A, K and B6, plus niacin, iron, fiber, riboflavin, folate, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese. A single heart-healthy serving, or one cup of grape leaves, has no fat or cholesterol and is very low in sodium and sugar.

Ingredients:

1-1 1/2 jars grape leaves, rinsed & drained (cut away as much of the woody, center stem as possible)

1 1/2 cups brown rice precooked half way (boil rice with 1 1/2 cups water until water evaporated)

1 bunch chopped Italian parsley

3-4 green onions, diced

1 small dry onion, diced

2 large tomatoes, diced

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, a.k.a. chick peas, washed, drained, & chopped (I place in a ziplock bag & smash with a rolling pin to break them up)

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup lemon juice (I prefer freshly squeezed lemon juice)

1/2 tsp ascorbic acid powder, a.k.a “hamd el laymoun” (optional; can omit & increase lemon juice to taste)

1/2 tsp allspice or Lebanese Seven Spices (I guess we felt we had to “two-up” the Chinese!)

1 tbsp sumac (optional; available at Arabic specialty grocery stores)

1/2 tsp turmeric

salt & pepper to taste

1 large or 2 small potatoes, sliced thin (you can leave the peel on)

Directions:

Before I explain how to roll the leaves, let me jump ahead to interject a comment.  Now, hear this: If after rolling the leaves, you find that you have extra stuffing leftover, the Grape Leaf Police Squad will NOT come to get you!! I know Sittie-you never had this problem!  Simply place the excess stuffing in a pot and simmer until the rice is done. It’s a great side dish.

Ok, back to directions…Coat the bottom of a 6-quart pot with olive oil, and then line the bottom of the pot with the potato slices to prevent the grape leaves from sticking in the bottom of the pot.  Begin layering the rolled/stuffed grape leaves, folded side down, as follows:  Lay several grape leaves out on your kitchen counter, vein side up/shiny side down.  Add a small amount of the stuffing atop each leaf–about 1-2 tbsp depending on the size of the leaf, and roll as shown in the link or in the photo below.

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Grape leaves how to roll

Lay the rolls close together, alternating direction with each layer.  As you being to use up the stuffing, you may need to strain it to remove the excess liquid and make the grape leaves easier to roll.  Reserve this excess liquid for cooking the leaves.  Once you’ve used up all your stuffing, place a dish upside down atop the grape leaves to prevent them from opening during the cooking process.  The dish should be large enough to cover most of the leaves but small enough to be easily removed with tongs after cooking is complete.  Add enough salted lemon:water (1:2 ratio) and any strained liquid from the stuffing to almost cover the top layer of grape leaves.  Cover, bring to a boil, and then simmer on low fire until almost all of the liquid is evaporated (~45 minutes).  Then taste one!  If the leaves are still tough, add another 1-1 1/2 cups of water and continue to boil until evaporated.  Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.  No fighting over who gets to eat the ones from the bottom layer.  “Shahtein!”

Sophie:  Yummy!!!  Goodbye folks!