Best Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves Recipe

If you search the Internet you will find several recipes for Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves.
Some vegetarian, with a rice filling; or with a mixture of rice and ground beef or lamb. They also vary on rice cooking instructions, other mix-ins, and amount of filling per leaf roll up. There are some, just wrong in the instructions to fully cook the rice. You want to par boil the rice so it can cook to doneness when you poach the finished rolled up packages. People talk in terms of tablespoonful or teaspoonfuls of stuffing. The amount varies according to the size of the leaf. And, one person's teaspoon is another's tablespoon. Clearly, the map is not the territory.

Stuffed vine leaves and cabbage leaves have a wide ranging heritage. Of course, the Middle-Eastern countries. But, Mama Wronski of Polish descent would regularly please the family with her delicious meat and rice filled cabbage rolls; Gołąbki [ɡoˈwompki . . . that "ł" in Polish is pronounced as an English "w"]. Grape leaf roll ups are also a part of the Eastern European and Russian cuisines.
Here is a meatless version with an ingredients mix combined from a few recipes. The best of everything. Add ground beef or lamb and adjust the amount of rice accordingly.

Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves Recipe: Makes approximately 40 small packages

Grape Vine Leaves / Cabbage Leaves (alternative)
Unless you have your own grapes growing* you will have to buy them packaged. They come about 100 to a jar or plastic pouch and will have to be soaked briefly in very hot water to remove the brining salt.
*If you are lucky enough to have fresh vine leaves, just blanch them before using. 
The next step to get the leaves ready is to snip off the tough stems.
Cabbage leaves are also an option, just to soften them in boiling water a bit to get them to roll up around the filling without cracking. And to trim off any thick spines.

For the Filling:

One Cup Long Grain or Basmati white rice
Parboil by adding to 1 cup boiling water, adjust heat to low and let cook covered 5 minutes. Drain and let cool.
Brown rice will work, but lengthen the par boil to 10 minutes.
1/2 Cup finely chopped Onion
         Sauté chopped onions in olive oil or butter until translucent
3 T toasted Pine Nuts, toast in dry skillet tossing until nicely browned.
3 T currants (previously soaked)
½ Cup finely chopped fresh Dill
½ Cup finely chopped fresh Parsley
¼ Cup finely chopped fresh Mint
Dried herbs will do in a pinch, but use sparingly. Think 1 part dried = 4 parts fresh.
3 T Olive Oil
2 T Fresh Lemon Juice

Salt and pepper to taste
Stir carefully to combine ingredients.

Rolling the filling into the leaves: (Here's a good picture tutorial)

Place a large vine leaf on a flat surface shiny side down, ribbed side up. Large (stem) base toward you.
Place a tablespoon of the filling in the middle at the broad base. Some recipes call for only a teaspoon of filling. Adjust the amount to proportion with the leaf size. Also, to your preference for size of the finished roll up.
First fold wide part of leaf toward the center onto filling, roll, and continue to fold sides toward the center until package is finished. If you have a broken or smallish leaf, put two together.
Roll the vine leaves snug but not tight, nor loose. The poaching to finish will cause the rice to expand a bit to result in a nice firm package. Practice makes perfect.
Place flap side down in a medium pan with vine leaves lining the bottom (2-3 layers thick), arranging packages neatly and snugly, but not tight. Remember they expand. Some packages may split open in the cooking . Not a problem. They taste the same, just not as pretty as they should be.

Cooking the Vine Leaf Packages:

You will see that in your store package of vine leaves some are small and others are large. Use the large to make the roll ups. The smaller leaves can be used to thoroughly line the bottom of a medium sized pan.
Water to cover. Chicken broth instead of water is optional.
After all your roll ups are arranged in the bottom of the pot, add water just to cover and press a heat proof plate on top.
Addition 2T Fresh Lemon Juice to the poaching liquid.
Bring to boil, lower heat to simmer, poach for approximately 20-30 minutes until done and tender.

Let cool to set. Serve hot, room temperature or cold with lemon slices to garnish, mint- yogurt sauce on the side (optional).
Add to a pita pocket sandwich with chopped vegetables and dressing.

Here is an instructional video showing A to Z. The demonstration is for a meat version. All rice version, remember to par boil and roll snug (not tight) to allow for expansion of the rice. (We told you there were many versions out there.)

If you have to get all "Martha" [Stewart] about it, get a gadget . . . (It may be Turkish to you, but a picture is worth a thousand words.)


Power Water

Our übermensch editor, advisor, critic, and buddy, David D. Wronski, writes:

We like to explore foods from all the world's cuisines. As you probably know there is a demimonde of foodies who go to extraordinary lengths to find the rare, unusual, obscure, and down right outrageous. Andrew Zimmerman is well known from his Travel Channel show, "Bizarre Foods". In an absolute class of one is the peerless, peripatetic, perspicacious, punctilious, and perfectly purple Baron Ambrosia.

My kitty buddy Cooky Cat tends to go far afield culinarily, and so do I. But not quite so assiduously as the aforementioned gentlemen.

Not so long ago shopping in a grocery store catering to Island tastes, we met a very friendly Jamaican lady, Rosalee, and asked her about Cow Foot, a well known dish in the Jamaican cuisine. I am unabashed in approaching other shoppers in stores selling foods of other nations, often asking for how-to suggestions. In semi-jest I asked our Rosalee whether she might make some Cow Foot for us. And, she said, YES! Of, course. "I call you." After several months passed she finally called. Apparently she had mislaid my telephone number, but she found it and was true to her word. Cow Foot with butter beans and spinners (hand rolled thin wheat flour dumplings). Delicioso.

We got along nicely at that dinner and were invited back again for something else, whatever we liked. Our next selection was braised oxtails, also served with spinners. Also, delicioso. At that recent get together we were treated to Stone's Ginger Wine. A fortified wine sweet from macerated raisins with a good ginger kick.

Rosalee's husband George was also there at each of our dinners. He's been a career chef at a resort hotel in Jamaica. He is expert in the island's culinary repertoire, from preparation to foraging.

In our conversation about food, and the foods of Jamaica, George trotted out something we hadn't heard about before. Power Water.

Power water is also called Mannish Soup or Goat Head soup. It's called Power Water because it give you the power, mon. A reputation as an aphrodisiac. Front end lifter, if you know the term. It put "the bark in the bite". "Make your daughter walk and talk."

That's right, it's made with the head of a goat; the male ram goat head is best, more strength. Also, throw in the feet and the stomach.

My research turned up the fact that Power Water is a traditional soup served at large gatherings. It is usually cooked outdoors in large quantities over a wood fire. It has healthful and strengthening properties. Jamaicans have a big reputation for their understanding of the healthful properties of foods. Also, plain talk. It good for you, mon. Ladies give it their men to make them more "mannish". So fellas, if the "little lady" is cooking up some Power Water for you tonight, take it as a hint; you can be sure you'll be getting lucky later.

Here is a good recipe for Power Water.

Power Water Recipe:

2 lbs cut up goat's head (male is better), feet, and stomach
1 1/2 gallons of water
6 green bananas, sliced (skin on or off)
1/2 lb coco*, cubed
1/2 lb tropical yam** cubed
1/2 lb carrot cubed
1/2 lb cho cho (Chayote) cubed
1/2 lb Irish potato cubed
1/4 lb scallion cut into pieces
1 medium sized scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic
2-3 sprigs thyme
12 Pimento berries (Allspice)
Salt to taste
1/2 lb flour for spinners / dumpling

* Coco, aka Taro Root 
** Tropical Yam, Mapuey

We're already planning our next visit with Rosalee and George. The menu plan is Ackee and Saltfish (Bacalao / Salt Cod), Jamaica's national breakfast dish. Maybe with some Coat of Arms on the side, THE national dish. The latter is a recipe centered on rice and beans (peas). Here's a good source for the basics of Jamaican ingredients.

We'll keep you posted.

 Interesting, the Rolling Stones produced their 1973 album Goat's Head Soup in Jamaica.

"Angie" is a featured song. It's there below to play.

But first, there's the excellent Pluto Shervington and his "Ram Goat Liver". 


Bringing "The Breath of the Wok"
to Your Sautéed Vegetables

Wok Hay is the Chinese language alliterative for what's also called "The Breath of the Wok"

The concept seems to be shrouded in mystery, kind of like what's up with that kitty of yours. Who knows. Well, Cooky Cat will (as usual, and you're welcome) cut to the chase.

Wok Hay has to do with that slight browning/smoky flavor you get when vegetables are sautéed at high temperature in a wok.

You can buy a wok if you like, it's a great utensil. But you don't need one. The deal with wok cooking is it is designed for the kind of high temperatures you just don't get on your usual kitchen stove. A wok does very well though for large quantities. Get a wok* or don't, either way we're showing you how to get Wok Hay anytime in any good enough skillet.

This article features vegetables. Meat dishes also qualify, but in Chinese cooking, the meat is cooked separately first then mixed in after the readied vegetables. So, if you want to add a meat into your vegetables, we won't object. Just that this is not intended to be a "How to Cook Chinese" piece.

Not to confuse the issue, but we like to cook some vegetables Italian style, sautéed with lots of garlic in olive oil. Spinach, zucchini pieces, broccoli flowers, even broccoli rabe are top choices. We don't do Brussels Sprouts Italian style (i.e., garlic), but we want to mention those little wonders because we just like them so much.

So here's the deal. The question has always been when sautéeing vegetables, do you parboil first? The emphatic answer is, no!

Do this instead.

Let's say you're sautéeing broccoli flowers in garlic. Heat some cooking grade but decent olive oil in a pan, sautée a whole mess of your garlic until it's soft, add the washed and well-dried broccoli flowers. Toss to heat through. Then . . . let it stay in place in the pan without stirring for about 4-5 minutes at high heat. A nice browning should have developed by then. At that point you can toss again and let stay on the heat some more to get more browning, but that is an option. At this point the broccoli flowers have developed the desired browning (don't be shy, get 'em good and brown) but need some steam finishing. Add some water and/or cooking wine, cover, and let steam for a few minutes until done to your taste. Season to taste, of course. Spice as you will. Toss some browned fresh bread crumbs to wow the crowd.

In the method described above we have found that steaming afterward develops more flavor and lets you control the level of doneness. Parboiled/steamed before hand you could easily lose control of the finished doneness of the dish.

Now, go get some Wok Hay! Capish, Italiene?

*Buying a Wok . . . (For cooking with gas, of course.)


A traditional wok with a round bottom is best. Flat bottom woks, you just as well could have a high sided skillet. The round bottom is a feature in the stirring. Carbon steel, please, and as big as you can stand. Make sure it's heavy gauge carbon steel; it'll have very little give when you squeeze the sides together. Woks get up to a couple of feet in diameter. Choose according to the amounts you generally prepare and the size of your stove burner. We prefer the every day kind with loop handles on each side. If you prefer the version with a stout handle, get the one with a wood insert tip. Keeps cool. Hand hammered, wow; but pricier. The carbon steel wok will need to be seasoned (video below), but once prepped it will give solid service and develop a nice darkened patina inside and out.

With the round bottom you'll need a ring to keep it stable on the stove top. Make sure that the ring is designed to fit snug on the stove top so that it is stable. While you are at it get a Chinese spoon and spatula set. 

There is a specially shaped set of wok spoon and spatula that is worth adding to this kit. The spatula fits closely to the round shape of the wok. (That's also why we recommend the round bottom wok.) The spoon is handy to help push things around and for serving. It can also be used as a cup for gathering your sauce elements. The spoon and spatula come in different sizes, so make sure your choice is proportioned to the size wok. Also, for the utensils, stainless steel for easy cleaning. Get the ones with the cool wood tips. 

Be sure to have a plastic scratchy pad or bamboo brush to clean your wok. If you observe the procedure in a Chinese kitchen, after the dish is completed and turned out onto the serving plate, the wok is rinsed with hot water and scrubbed with a handled brush. No soap! Stuck places, get the plastic scour pad or bamboo brush. The full bore wok stove is set up with a water source directly above the wok. Also the stove fire hole is set with a ring whose height is set a little above the stove top surface. That surface is designed to take the spill from the wash water and take it away down a drain. Once in a while you may want to clean your wok with soap and water. Just rinse well and re-season. No problemo.

If you have the space and the shekels, get a wok stove. It'll produce the mega BTU's to get the high heat that'll teach that wok to talk. (It breathes and talks!). If you're one of those with a showpiece kitchen, then a wok stove is your ticket to wow the Joneses. Everybody has the restaurant stove and the walk-in sized refrigerator. It used to be all's you needed was an espresso machine. Now, it's how big and fancy your espresso unit is.



Knife Skills
Never Too Soon to Learn

A friend of ours was apoplectic. He tells us about his friend, a mother of three, and her plans to teach cooking to children. He showed up on our doorstep in high dudgeon after he saw a photo of her tender lovely daughter attentively cutting celery . . . with her finger tips kept straight out. 

We don't know if the mother of that kid knows proper knife skills herself. The story is that at a younger age she cut the palm of her hand trying to cut a bagel in half. Ouch.

Knife skills is a big subject and we aren't trying to cover all the bases. There's how to hold a knife. How to hold what you're cutting; i.e., the holding hand position. And, finally, the various techniques for the many things you would want to do with a knife in the kitchen.

Today we're focusing on the correct way to keep the fingers on the hand holding/guiding what you may be cutting. This may seem too obvious, but it can't be stressed enough about how to correctly position the holding hand.

More examples of proper technique . . .

Here's a video to give it a live perspective . . .


"Fatayer bi Sabanekh"

Middle Eastern Spinach Pies

The video below is self explanatory and complete. Fatayer bi Sabanekh are absolutely delicioso.

It seems there are as many variations as there are cooks. We understand spinach or purslane (early summer in hip markets) are traditional.

The recipe below looks good. The dough is hand formed and yields a somewhat thick pillowy result. Other recipes we've seen recommend a thin rolled dough, no more than 1/8 inch thick. Go for "see through".

Not to further confuse, the spice mix, called Bahārāt, seems to include different sets of ingredients depending on the source. Here is a recipe for Bahārāt that looks good. You can also buy spice mix in Middle Eastern stores. Or, use Zatar, made at home; also available in stores. Sumac seems to be an element most all recipes call for. You can spice your spinach mix with sumac only. Salt, of course, to taste.

Some recipes also add citric acid crystals to bring the sour along with the lemon juice. Optional.

We realized this is all rather sketchy. But the variations on an Internet search are endless. See what lifts your skirt. 

Oh, yes. That spinach mix makes for one mean pizza. As is, or with some queso.


David Wronski shares . . .

"Some say it’s tough to pay $118.98 per pound for dry-aged Wagyu porterhouse steak* ; but, if you don’t, it could be tougher."

That's the way we would crack wise at my school days butcher shop job when a customer complained about the price of something. Of course, back in the day, you could practically buy a car for $118.98.

* Lobel's pricing as of this writing.