Warak Enab translates to Middle Eastern style grape leaves stuffed with spiced rice and meat and slowly cooked into mouthwatering perfection alongside tender lamb chops in a tangy lemon broth.
I get excited anytime a family member makes warak enab. Stuffed vine leaves, or warak enab, are a delicious show stopping dish. The centerpiece for any special occasion, and proof of your mom or Tata’s love for you. Palestinians pride themselves on undergoing the arduous process it takes to prepare these, and the neater and tighter your vine leaves are, the more a source of pride it is. Mine were not even remotely neat, but the delicious factor totally overshadows that. Not your typical 30 minute meal, and therefore not in the realm of my every day recipes, but making this once in a while is so worth it.
What are Stuffed Grape Leaves?
A very commonly eaten dish in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and a complete labor of love. Also known as stuffed vine leaves, grape leaves are filled with a rice mixture, and completed one of two ways. They are either vegetarian, or made with minced meat that’s been mixed into the rice stuffing. The vegetarian ones are more commonly eaten cold, and the meat version hot.
Cook them slowly, over a couple hours in water that’s infused with lemon at the last minute. This gives you a tender rice mixture, and soft and lemony vine leaves that almost fall apart in your mouth. SO GOOD.
Prepare your rice stuffing. This is made with short grain (Egyptian rice), raw ground lamb, and flavor enhancers. I add tomato, onion, garlic, parsley, and spices like seven spices (or all spice) and cinnamon. Salt and pepper of course, and a drizzle of olive oil.
I like my rice stuffing to be more about the rice and less about the meat, so I use less ground meat then some other recipes you might find, but feel free to adjust this amount upwards. You can use up to 500 g (1 lb) of ground lamb.
Stuffing the vine leaves:
Once your stuffing mixture is ready, prepare your vine leaves. Jarred vine leaves need to be soaked in hot water for a few minutes to lose some of their brininess. I’ve never made this with fresh vine leaves, because jarred ones are so easy to find and work with.
Once the vine leaves have soaked, drain them, and cut off the short knobby stem at the base of the leaves. The leaves might cling together, so separate them carefully, leaf by leaf.
The wide base of the leaf should be closest to you and the pointy top bit away from you. Place a heaped teaspoonful of the stuffing mixture in the center of the leaf, then roll the leaf starting from the bottom over the stuffing, bringing in the sides of the leaf as you go, and rolling right up to the top till you have a tight little parcel. Picture a tortilla being rolled, making sure the sides tuck firmly in so it doesn’t fall apart.
This takes practice and a lot of time, but the end result makes you forget all that. The goal is to have the vine leaves rolled tightly enough so that they don’t fall apart in the lengthy cooking process.
To stuff the zucchini and eggplant, they need to be hollowed out but carefully so they don’t break, then stuffed 3/4 full. This post here gives a lot more tips on that.
What to serve Warak Enab with:
My favorite thing to eat grape leaves with is yogurt. Trust me! You dip the warak in thick yogurt, which you can also sprinkle with dried mint. You can also do a light salad. This is a heavy meal in its own right, so anything you serve this with should be very simple.
How long do stuffed vine leaves last?
They probably won’t last too long in your house, but leftovers taste amazing. Store in the fridge for 3-4 days. I’ve never tried freezing them, but I am intrigued, so if you know anything about this leave a comment below!
Stuffed Grape Leaves with Meat – Warak Enab
For the rice stuffing:
- 1.5 cups Egyptian rice (short grain rice)
- 1 small tomato, very finely diced
- 1 small onion, very finely diced,
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp seven spices or all spice
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 200 g ground lamb
- 6-8 zucchini (koosa), cored
- 2-3 eggplants, cored
- 1 jar vine leaves (450 g or 1 lb)
- 2 tomatoes sliced
- 2 potatoes sliced
- 1/2 kg lamb chops or lamb neck pieces
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 head garlic, peeled
- olive oil
- 3 lemons, juiced
For the rice stuffing:
- Soak the Egyptian rice for 20 minutes or so, then rinse wjth cold water until water runs clear.
- Place rice in a large bowl and add the tomato, onion, parsley, garlic, spices, and olive oil and stir well to combine. Add the raw minced lamb, and stir to evenly incorporate into the rice mixture. It might be easier to use your hands to work the meat into the rice.
- Place the vine leaves in a bowl of hot water for 3 minutes. This helps them lose a little of the brininess. Drain, and gently separate vine leaves.
- Stuff the cored zucchini and eggplant until 3/4 filled with rice. Use your finger to pack them firmly. Set aside.
- Stuff the vine leaves by placing an individual leaf with the tip pointing upwards, placing a heaped teaspoon of the rice stuffing in the center of the vine leave, then rolling from the bottom upwards, tucking in the sides of the vine leaves as you go. It's like you're making a sandwich wrap. Keep going until you've finished all the stuffing.
- Place a layer of tomatoes at the bottom of a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Layer your potato slices on top of the tomato. This will keep the vine leaves touching the bottom of the pan from burning, plus they are delicious.
- Season the lamb chops or lamb neck with salt and pepper, and place on top of the potato slices.
- Scatter the whole peeled garlic cloves over the lamb. Place the stuffed zucchini and eggplant in a ring around the circumference of the pot, then gently place the stuffed vine leaves in an even layer filling the rest of the pot, like pictured above.
- Drizzle olive oil over the top of the filled pot. Add boiling water to the pot, pouring at the edge of the pot until the water just comes to the top layer of the vine leaves- the top layer shouldn't be submerged. Sprinkle with salt to season. Place a plate on top of the vine leaves to hold them down so the vine leaves don't float around while cooking. Cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid
- Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and let the fluid in the pot come to a simmer. Simmer for anywhere between 1.5-2.5 hours, or until vine leaves and stuffed vegetables are cooked through and the rice inside is cooked through. Start checking at the 1 hour mark. 15 minutes before you take the pot off the heat, add the lemon juice.
- Once the meal is ready, flip the vine leaves onto a large serving plate carefully. Serve immediately and enjoy with some yogurt on the side. These are also very tasty at room temperature or cold!
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