~ "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; Through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." ~ "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" ~ "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." ~ "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."~

Monday, December 3, 2012

Romanian Stuffed Grape Leaves... "Sarmalute in Foi de Vita"

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. 


Janel Gradowski said...

I would like to try these. I've only had the Greek variety in restaurants. I didn't even know there were Romanian versions. I'm sure the dill and lemon make them very tasty.

Ellie said...

Janel, Yes, the Romanian version is a bit different than the Greek... I think the flavors are a bit more subtle. Though you can definitely add more dill than I have posted.

The Romanian version also focuses more on the dill-lemon flavor, whereas the Greek version will take on the flavor of the spices added... and I think most are stuffed mainly with rice, currants and oftentimes nuts. And Romanians also have a vegetarian version made with rice and extra vegetables and herbs. Those can even be eaten cold...

In any case, I sure hope you can give this version a try:)... and that you enjoy them! And thanks so much for stopping by... really appreciate it!

Ioana said...

Nu le-am incercat niciodata cu pui si cu sos de lamaie. Noi intotdeauna le-am facut cu un amestec de porc si vita si sos de rosii. Varianta ta ma intriga si cred ca le voi incerca in viitor. Multumesc pentru retetele tale delicioase!

Ellie said...

Ioana, Multumesc... si apreciez cuvintele tale scumpe!

Varianta cu lamaie imi place foarte mult... asa le facea mama mea. Sosul cum l-am scris aici nu este prea mult, dar poti sa il ajustezi... dar smantana este necesar:). Sant foarte bune si cu pork si vita... dar mama mea le face cu pui ca ii placea tare mult. Acum asa le fac si eu:).

Sper sa iti placa si tie daca le incerci... si multumesc mult de vizita!

Speranta said...

Imi plac sarmalutele pe care le-ai postat .Arata frumos si sunt sigura ca sunt delicioase.Mi-ai dat ideea... Da chiar imi plac!

O,zi placuta iti doresc!

Ellie said...


Sarmalutele sant chiar bune... poate o sa le faci daca ai niste foi de vita in freezer:).

Iti multumesc de vizita... O zi placuta!

Mihaela said...

Ellie, you've been cooking a lot good stuff since I haven't visit you. I love these and should make some soon since I have grape leaves left in the freezer. Have a wonderful holiday season and a Merry Christmas!

Mihaela said...

I forgot, I had a round-up on my blog for Romanian national day, you might find some inspiration for romanian dishes :)

siggy said...

My great grandfather made these. Brings back memories...

Ellie said...

Mihaela, Glad to see you are back:).... and oh, if you have grape leaves in the freezer, you really should make these:)! They are so good... and I am sure you know that. I'll make sure to stop by and see how the Romanian round-up went.... and how you personally are doing. At one point I thought you were busy opening your pastry shop:).

Siggy, It's funny as much as I love various international foods, somehow I have a soft spot for Romanian dishes... at least the way my mom cooked:). This particular one brought some real fond memories, and I enjoyed them tremendously!

Michele said...

A great recipe I can't wait to try out. I love Stuffed Grape Leaves and those adventurous enough to try them! I wish more would.

I came up with my own version of a Stuffed Grape Leaves, inline with an Arab style. While different from your own, I think mine is a unique take on the dish. I'm new to the Food Blog scene and would love some feedback from a pro like you. Check out my recipe if have time.


Ellie said...

Michele, Thanks for stopping by. Your version of the stuffed grape leaves sound great... definitely more Arabic, than Romanian:).

Hope you can give this recipe a try...

Anonymous said...

Hello, I notice you don't use pork in your sarmale or ciftele asta nu este cum am vizut in Romania - may I ask why ??

Romanians have an affinity with pork and your recipes which should contain pork don't - just curious ?

Serban - Sydney Australia

Ellie said...

Serban, Yes, you are quite right. Romanians do prefer to use pork in most ground meat dishes... be it chiftele, sarmale, stuffed peppers, etc...

My reason for using chicken stems from my childhood... it's what I grew up with. Though in all fairness I have to say that my mom did use pork from time to time:).

Growing up in a large family, chicken used to be cheaper, so my mom opted to buy chicken thigh/leg meat and ground it up herself... she noticed it worked quite well in place of pork. Actually, sometimes she thought it even tasted better:). So that became the norm in our home...
But like you said, definitely not the norm for traditional Romanians.

My mom also thought the chicken based dishes were easier on our stomachs:) and a bit healthier...

So I ended up doing the same when I moved out and got married... That's is why you'll notice most of my dishes use ground chicken rather than pork.

Of course, one can easily substitute pork in all my dishes where I use chicken... a 1:1 ratio.

Hope that answers your question... and thanks a bunch for stopping by.