Romanian Stuffed Grape Leaves(Sarmalute in Foi de Vita)... with chicken and rice. Stuffed grape leaves. So many versions.... but all using the humble grape leaf. This version I am posting today happens to be more Romanian in style... though you'll find plenty of variations even within the Romanian varieties. Yet this is how I remember my mom making them... except my mom always used fresh leaves from the grapes growing in our garden. But since I don't have grapes growing in my garden, I have to settle for the store bought kind.
This Romanian version of stuffed grape leaves is void of spices normally found in Greek or Turkish dolma or other middle-eastern varieties. Normally only dill and parsley is used when cooking the Romanian version... mint not so much. And the sauce in which the stuffed grape leaves are cooked in, is usually lemon based, though sometimes a tomato based broth can also be used. Personally, I like the lemony version... as the lemon complements the "tang" in the grape leaves. At the same time, it sort of makes them stand out from the regular stuffed cabbage rolls that are tomato based.... same sort of meat filling, but different results.
If you don't have access to fresh grape leaves, bottled grape leaves is an acceptable alternative. I found mine at a health food store... void of any preservatives except the citric acid. They are usually kept in a brine solution that's made out of water and salt. I keep the jar in the fridge, and I find you can make these stuffed grape leaves throughout the year. They are a wonderful little appetizer, but can be made into a meal as well. Growing up, the stuffed grape leaves were a meal for us... always served with sour cream. Loved them.
So here's an idea for a Christmas appetizer. It's ideal because you don't necessarily have to serve them hot... they're good at room temperature too. And it perks up the appetizer plate with something different. Hope you enjoy...
Note: I must say this version doesn't make a ton of "sauce"... rather, it relies on a sour cream/yoghurt addition to complement the stuffed grape leaves. But if you like more sauce, opt to add more water to the stuffed grape leaves as they are cooking away...
Tip: If you like a slight tomato-y sauce, opt to whisk in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste with the water and lemon juice.... you can even add some crushed garlic, if you like. I like making it without the tomato paste or garlic... just because it reminds me of my mom's version. But nothing keeps you back from making this recipe your own:).
You will need: makes about 40 stuffed grape leaves... or so
40-50 grape leaves, jarred and rinsed thoroughly
1 lb(or 5 chicken thighs) chicken, ground
1 medium onion, grated
1 ex-large egg
6 TBS rice(can use short grain or long, up to you)
1-2 TBS fresh/frozen dill, chopped fine
1-2 TBS fresh/frozen parsley, chopped fine
1 1/2 -2 tsps kosher salt, or to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra: for "sauce"
4 TBS olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
Liquid: to cover stuffed grape leaves
2-3 cups hot water, or as needed
4-5 TBS fresh lemon juice
1. Grind chicken, if not using store-bought ground chicken. Place ground chicken in a large bowl.
2. Add the onion to the grinder and run it through. Alternately, grate the onion. Add it to the ground chicken.
3. To the meat mixture, add the rice, egg, herbs, salt and pepper.
4. If using brined grape leaves, rinse thoroughly to remove extra salt.
Assemble Stuffed Grape Leaves.
1. Place a rinsed grape leaf flat on a flat surface... a plate or wooden block, etc.
2. Add about 1 TBS meat mixture in the center and fold as you would a burrito, tucking in any loose edges. Set aside on a separate plate.
3. Stuff the the extra leaves with rest of the the meat until the meat is used up.
4. In a large pot, saute 1/2 an onion in 4 TBS olive oil.... till nicely golden... about 5-10 minutes.
Add a few extra grape leaves on the bottom of the pan(covering the sauteed onion)... I had a few grape leaves that were quite ripped up, so I placed those on the bottom of the pot... maybe 7-8 leaves.
5. Arrange the rolled grape leaves in a circular pattern in pot.... layering them, if need be.
6. Combine lemon juice and water. Pour over the stuffed grape leaves, making sure the watercovers the top of the rolls... but barely, you don't want them swimming in too much liquid. Adjust water if needed.
7. Place a heat-proof plate on top of the rolls... inside the pot.
8. Bring liquid to a boil, cover pot and reduce heat to low... simmer for 30-40 minutes... or until rice is tender(check one to see)... they are probably cooked at 20 minutes, but I like to cook the sauce down a bit... to about half.
Or if you want more"sauce" in the end, opt to add a bit more water as the stuffed grape leaves are cooking.... and you can even add some sour cream to the sauce, if you like.
9. Serve as an appetizer, room temp or hot... or add sour cream/yoghurt and make it a meal.