One of the most popular dishes in Middle Eastern cuisine is stuffed grape leaves and zucchini.
It was my grandmother “tayta Nofa” who taught me how to make this dish. On an early summer day, I sat with tayta Nofa in front of her house on a terrace shaded by a grape vine. Their she showed me her way of hollowing out zucchini and stuffing grape leaves with seasoned meat, rice and crushed tomatoes. Once the cooking of this delicious and labor intensive meal was done; we enjoyed the fruits of our labor on that same terrace.
The best memories were made on that day and I will forever treasure them.
Here now, I share with you my recipe of stuffed grape leaves and zucchini with some of my tayta Nofa’s techniques.
- 1 pound ground round
- 1 cup of rice, rinsed
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon all spice
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes or tomato purée, divided
- 3 large zucchinis, rinsed cut in half and cored
- ¾ pound grape leaves [1 jar of grape leaves (approx. 1¼ pound)]
- Rinse the zucchini, cut each in half and core with a corer to remove the flesh. Be sure each zucchini has one open cavity. Do not core through.
- Rinse grape leaves well under cold water to remove the brine. Place in a colander to drain.
- You can reserve the remaining grape leaves in the air tight jar in the refrigerator or drain and freeze them in freezer bags for future use.
- In a large glass bowl, combine the first five ingredients and 1 cup of crushed tomatoes. Mix well with clean hands.
- On a cutting board or plate, place a grape leaf smooth side down with the veins facing upward. Cut the stem with a small sharp knife or kitchen scissors. Based on the size of the leaf, place a small amount of mixture in middle of the leaf. Fold the side closest to you toward the center of the leaf to cover the mixture, then fold the right and left side inward toward the center. Then roll forward (away from you), not too tight, leave a little room for the rice to expand. Line the bottom of a large dutch oven with rolled grape leaves in a circular arrangement, placing them closely together but not tightly packed so they can properly cook.
- Place a saucer, face down, over the rolled grape leaves in dutch oven to keep them together while cooking.
- Stuff the cavity of each zucchini with the meat rice mixture and place in dutch oven.
- Add the remaining crushed tomatoes, a bit of water if desired to thin out the sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat for 35 minutes or until meat and rice are done.
- Transfer the zucchini and stuffed grape leaves to a serving platter.
- Serve with homemade plain yogurt and pita bread.