Syrian style stuffed grape leaves

by Sarah on July 19, 2012

Syrian stuffed grape leaves

It’s hard to be enthusiastic neck deep in summer. The heat stifles my reactions and zaps me of energy.  The effect is accumulative. Nobody is complaining about one hot day.

From now until October, there are going to be rivulets of sweat trickling down my back every time I step outside. This seems like an infinite number of days from where I stand.

But there is a good side to this weather. The figs adore it.  The bougainvillea seems to luxuriate in the dense tropical air even without water.  Capers continue their steady growth, impervious to the rise in temperatures. Grapes send out new tendrils as everything else becomes limp and desiccated.

Bougainvillea,  figs growing wild, figs


At the outdoor markets, from Ramle to Nazareth, large piles of grape leaves are offered for sale. They also grow wild near water sources, bright green against the parched earth. These are one of the few plants that can be foraged during the long simmering days of summer.

summer in israel, grape vine

Syrian Style Stuffed Grape Leaves


Al Hashulhan, Israel’s foremost culinary magazine, was founded in 1991 by Janna Gur and her husband, Ilan. This periodical appears once a month and focuses mainly on Israel’s food culture, whether new creations from high profile chefs or ethnic foods from the country’s diverse society.  It is the Hebrew version of Saveur magazine, highlighting the regions unique offerings by professionals and home cooks alike.  Janna Gur, the chief editor of this magazine, has expanded the business to include a website, numerous cookbooks and iphone apps to make Israeli food accessible to everyone.

The 2011 April issue was dedicated to Passover foods and included an article by Abigail Cohen about holiday foods made by her Syrian grandparents. With the abundance of grape leaves of the season I decided to try her grandmother’s, Emma’s, stuffed grape leaves. Syrian cuisine is the commonality of all those that live or once lived in this area, whether Christians, Muslims or Jews.

About 60-70 medium sized fresh grape leaves or equivalent amount of preserved leaves

4-7 carrots, cut into rounds. It should be enough to cover the bottom of a medium sized pot


Juice from one lemon

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons dried mint

4 garlic cloves

3 tablespoons olive oil


2 cups round rice

150 grams ground meat

1 teaspoons Syrian baharat (see below)

1/2 teaspoons black pepper mix (see below)

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, I used olive oil

 grape leaves, tendril, stuffing grape leaves

The leaves: Clean and rinse the grape leaves. If they are fresh, parboil them until they change color. If they are preserved in salt water, rinse them well. Set aside.

The filling:

In a pot put the rice, 2 tablespoons of oil and ¼ cup water. Heat on low for 5-6 minutes until the water is absorbed by the rice and no liquid remains. Add the remaining ingredients for the filling and combine.

The sauce:

Combine the lemon juice, sugar, salt, crushed garlic, olive oil and mint. Set aside.

Stuffing the grape leaves

Stuff the grape leaves: Place leaves 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 to create a cigar shape. Arrange the grape leaves in a carrot lined pot seam facing down. The leaves should fit snugly together to inhibit them from floating when covered with sauce. Tuck the any extra carrots between the rolls.

Pour the sauce over the leaves and add just enough water to cover the leaves. Use a plate to keep the leaves in place, boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for another 30-40 minutes, let stand at least 1 hour covered, before serving. If the grape leaves are swimming in liquid, uncover the pot and reduce. If the rice is still hard, continue cooking, adding more water if necessary. The rolls taste better the following day when the flavors have a chance to meld.

 Black pepper mix:

Grind together 100 grams black pepper, 50 grams cumin seeds and 6 cardamom pods. Store in the freezer.

Syrian Baharat:

Grind together 3 whole nutmeg nuts with 100 grams of allspice. Store in the freezer.

Syrian food blogs I recommend:

Tony Tahhan

Syrian Foodie in London

Anissa’s Blog

Simply Heaven Food (Afaf stopped blogging but it’s worth a visit for the  lovely collection of Syrian recipes she has compiled)

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa July 19, 2012 at 10:38 am

Wonderful! That is one great filling. So tasty.




Krista July 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Your countryside looks so similar to Australia in late summer. :-) I can well imagine you are sweltering – even though it’s winter here right now. :-) This sounds delicious! And I’m so happy you mentioned capers today, because I’m planning my garden and would like to grow them. :-)


ATasteOfMadness July 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Hahah, I hear you, my energy has been zapped as well ;)
This looks absolutely mouthwatering! I’m hungry all over again!


Eha July 19, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Have made and enjoyed Greek and Cypriot dolmades for decades. What a delightful new recipe for a similar dish: same methodology, deeper flavours. Thank you for the very simple black pepper and Syrian baharat recipes, which have multiple uses. Above all, the photos are all beautiful: I am particularly fond of the ‘innocent lusciousness’ of the bougainvillea, which I used to grow in profusion when I lived in the tropical northern states of Australia. Yours is lovely :) !


Ivy July 20, 2012 at 8:22 am

Thanks for passing from my blog and I am glad to meet you. It’s been very hot here in Greece as well. Love dolmades but they are quite different from the ones we are used to. I am sure these spicy ones must taste wonderful as well.


irene July 22, 2012 at 1:59 am

cooking often but greek style! really delicious!


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