In an Arab household, you must go for fourth and fifth rounds or you’ll endure the wrath of someone’s Tita (grandmother in Arabic). Growing up in a Syrian/Lebanese family, I’ve learned the ways in which Arab women show their hospitality, generosity, and love by sharing the food they spend HOURS making in the kitchen. At weddings, funerals, christenings, graduations, and even an average Sunday lunch by the pool, one thing is always present: warak enab, or stuffed grape leaves, which take approximately eight hours to cook.
My family is humongous—and that’s an understatement. On my father’s side, from grandparents to great-grandchildren, we form a clan of 72 crazy, dysfunctional individuals. One pot, bearing only about 150 grape leaves, is meant to feed everyone… So, on Christmas Day, there is always a fight to be the first to reach the grape leaves platter—even if that means sneaking a few bites in the kitchen.
Warak enab is most definitely a holiday favorite. Not only is it mouth-watering, but the dish carries a history like no other—it spans the migration of my family from the Middle East to the Caribbean. My Tita and her 13 siblings have all grown their own grapevines in their backyards, which, in Trinidad, is a sign that an Arab family lives there or once lived there. From the bounty of the grapevines, we make this recipe that has been passed through decades of generations, from mothers to daughters, and has been adapted throughout time, telling the story of my ancestors as a reflection of my origins.
—Teresa Sabga, co-editor-in-chief of Baked Magazine. Follow Teresa on Twitter and Instagram @teresamarias.
MAKES 150 FRESH GRAPE LEAVES
- 2 cups rice, washed and drained
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 3 teaspoons butter
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped mint
- ⅔-1 cup lime juice
- 1 pound lamb shank or shoulder
- 1½ level tablespoons salt
- ½ pound butter
- ¼ cup finely chopped mint (optional)
For cooking liquid:
- Put the lamb to boil in a saucepan. When the scum rises to the top, discard the water, wash the lamb, and put to boil again. When the lamb is cooked, remove and set aside, reserving the liquid for stock.
To prepare and stuff the grape leaves:
- To make the stuffing, put the ground beef, rice, butter, mint, and salt into a mixing bowl and knead to combine well. Set aside in the refrigerator until leaves are prepared.
- Cut the stems off the grape leaves. Submerge the leaves in boiling water for 1 minute, and place in a colander to drain and cool.
- To stuff, position each leaf shiny side down, with the stem end closest to you on a clean work surface.
- Place a spoonful of stuffing in a ¼-inch-deep line across the bottom of the leaf where it joins the stem.
- Fold the bottom of the leaf over the stuffing and roll once.
- Next, fold each side of the leaf towards the middle. Continue rolling, holding firmly until it is wrapped up into a neat parcel (like a small cigar).
- Set aside, resting on the final fold so it will not unwrap, and continue until all the leaves are stuffed and rolled.
To cook the grape leaves:
- Pack the cooked lamb on the bottom of a large, straight-sided pot.
- Pack a layer of rolled grape leaves into the pot tightly and neatly together, and dot with pats of butter and mint. Pack the second layer on top and perpendicular to the first, and dot with butter and mint as well. Continue in this manner until all the grape leaves are packed.
- Place a heavy, heatproof plate face-down on top of the final layer. This is to prevent the grape leaves from unrolling while cooking.
- Mix together the lamb stock, lime, salt, and additional water to make up the desired amount of cooking liquid, approximately 4 cups.
- Pour the cooking liquid slowly into the pot. The liquid should come up to ½ inch from the top of the first layer. Set aside extra liquid in case you need to replenish it later.
- Bring to a boil, cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer until the rice is cooked and and most of the liquid is absorbed, approximately 45 minutes. Check every 10 minutes and, if necessary, replenish the liquid by pouring very carefully into the edges of the pot.
- To serve, remove the plate from top of the grape leaves. Place a flat, round platter (with a small lip) onto the top of the pot, and holding very carefully, turn pot and platter over quickly in one swift movement. Let stand in place for 5 minutes, and then lift the pot off carefully so as not to disturb the “mould” of the grape leaves on the serving platter. The lamb pieces may be removed or served. Drain off most of the liquid.
- Serve hot.
This recipe was originally printed in “Ah’len Cookbook – A Culinary Journey Through the Eyes of the Syrian Lebanese Association of Trinidad.”