The Many Ways of Rolling Grape Leaves

by Sarah on May 15, 2009


Last Sunday Osnat invited me to see how she prepares authentic Kurdish food for a group of about thirty American tourists. This group was coordinated partly by the Jewish Agency, an organization which focuses mainly on helping new immigrants find a vocation in Israel.

I told Osnat that I would help her make the stuffed grape leaves and that I am pretty good at it. I wish I did not say that. She started rolling the grape leaves at an unbelievable speed and I quickly stopped the pretense of knowing anything about Kurdish food, and grape leaf rolling in particular. I just stood back and watched the woman roll! It was incredible to see such magical hands at work.

Now I know four different ways of rolling grape leaves:

1. The “I am a tourist and have no idea how to roll” way. A Turkish wizard invented the grape rolling machine which looks like it could never work but amazingly it does. My neighbor, who was cleaning out her shed found this contraption and came over to ask if I wanted “this piece of junk”. Of course I wanted it! I have almost no use for it but it has endless showoffy potential because it makes perfectly uniform rolls every time. It is limited to specific sized leaves and time consuming for those who already know how to roll.
2. The classic and pedantic way of rolling grape leaves. Place leave shiny side down on a flat surface, put a bit of filling on the leaf close to the stem, fold the sides over and then carefully roll the leaf, tucking the sides in. This is a popular method of rolling, gives good results and is faster than using a machine.
3. Grape leaf rolling for the advanced learner. Take about 500 grape leaves and stuff them in under a minute, including a break for mint tea. Here the grape leaf is held flat on the palm of the hand, shiny side down. The filling is placed along the main center vein of the leaf, and one side of the leaf is folded over, the sides (the top and bottom of the leaf) are folded inwards and the bundle is rolled. This is Osnat’s method, or the method she learned from her mother who came from the village of Homs in Iraq near the Turkish border.
4. This is another version of the advanced grape leaf rolling method. Here a leaf is held flat on the palm of the hand, shiny side down. The filling is placed along the main center vein of the leaf. One side of the leaf is folded over the filling and then the opposite side is folded over that. The top and bottom are folded inwards. This makes more of a square bundle and is the way my grandmother from the Kurdish/Iraqi town of Koysanjak does it.

Osnat’s filling is different than my grandmothers. She makes a mixture of long grain rice, parsley, tomatoes, fried onions, fresh onions, salt, vegetable oil and paprika. The use of paprika is a Turkish influence and is not often used in the southern parts of Iraqi Kurdistan. I will try to make this type of stuffed grape leaf on my own and will write down a more exact recipe but if you are adventurous it is possible to judge the amounts just by the picture.
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