Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves
Vegetarian stuffed grape leaves are stuffed with a delicious mix of rice, onion, chickpeas, and peppers. Simple adjustments make this gluten-free, and vegan. See how to roll grapeleaves here. Learn how to identify the leaves for picking them fresh here.
That’s just how we say it, the Lebanese. It’s our expression of closeness to a friend, or a fellow Lebanese who may be a perfect stranger but is no stranger at all. It says: I know you, we share something we both treasure like gold, and you–you are special. I’ve even been known to call my own sister cousin.
When I say I have 60-plus cousins, that’s blood relatives. I can’t imagine life without them. I can’t imagine how many of the other kind of cousins I have, or any of us has, because that’s like trying to count grains of sand.
It was a cousin of the latter sort who gifted me with a whole different take on grape leaves, showing me that meat is not the one and only way (it’s just so hard to beat…).
The rolls were carried across the miles from Detroit by Patti, in a big huge tunjura (a big pot), in the dead of winter. It was the week Ruth passed away, and Patti, being the Lebanese that she is, went into the kitchen with her mother-in-law to see what they could do to send comfort for the grieving. The pot they used was no less a gift than the rolls, and Patti insisted we keep it. The mama wanted us to keep the pot, cousin said, needed us to keep it because she was distraught about this loss of life, and here is how she could let us know. She’d fill her best leaves with her best filling and fill her best pot with all of it. Then give it away.
Patti is so well-versed in loss of all sorts, her response is nearly Pavlovian. The very act of her leaving her family at Christmas, putting the big, steaming pot into her car (probably lodged in a box just the right size to keep it from jostling), and making the quiet, snowy drive over from Detroit is an undertaking. Then to walk right into the grief by herself with the pot and give everyone an I’m-with-you-in-this hug—that’s real-deal labor of love.
We ate up the hugs, but good Lord, what was the scent emanating from that pot? Either those grape leaf rolls have tinted my memory with rose, or Patti really did take one out, simply say: open, and put it in my mouth.
The rolls had layers of savory flavor, from tomato to herb to onion. But what made me want to sit down and get to the bottom of this roll was the texture, a tenderness that is just not achievable with the classic meat and rice filling. After a close inspection it was clear there was no meat here, that this was a flavorful mix of rice and chickpeas and a host of seasonings that melded it all together. I should not have been so surprised though, given how good we are at our vegetables, grains and pulses. What did surprise me was that I could enjoy a meatless grape leaf roll with as much mouth-watering desire as I do the lemony, meaty ones.
I looked at Patti wide-eyed while chewing. Right?, she said.
Right cousin. Who is not my cousin, but is my cousin.
Vegetarian Grape Leave Rolls
- 80-100 grape leaves, medium size, fresh or jarred
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 cups red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1 1/2 cups long or medium grain rice
- 1 cup chickpeas, rinsed
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 6-10 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4 lemons, juiced
- 6 cups vegetable broth (or water)
- If using fresh leaves, soak them in hot water for 10 minutes to soften, or blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes if the leaves seem tough. If using jarred leaves, rinse the leaves thoroughly and soak in cool water for 15 minutes. Pat the leaves dry.
- In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and red bell pepper. Cook until softened, stirring frequently. Stir in the rice, chickpeas and tomato paste, and season with 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, cinnamon and cayenne. It will take a few minutes for the tomato paste to distribute while stirring. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley and cilantro. Taste the filling and adjust seasonings if needed. Set aside to cool enough to handle.
- Prepare a large dutch oven by lining the bottom with grape leaves to protect the rolls from scorching.
- Place grape leaves facing vein-side up on the work surface, with the wide stem-end of the leaf toward you. The amount of filling spooned onto each leaf will depend on the size of the leaf. Drop about a heaping teaspoon offilling across the stem edge of the leaf, leaving enough leaf on either side of the filling for rolling.
- Fold each side of leaf over the filling like an envelope, hold those newly folded sides in place and lift that stem edge up over the filling, tucking the edge under the filling. If this is difficult, take away some of the filling. Roll the leaf tightly away from you, tucking the right and left edges under as you go. Keeping the roll tightly wound will help prevent it from unraveling while it cooks.
- Arrange the rolls in tightly packed rows in the dutch oven as you roll, alternating the direction of each layer of rows. Tuck garlic cloves in here and there. Place a plate face down over the top layer to prevent the rolls from floating.
- Pour broth or water over the rolls just to cover them. Add the juice of two lemons. Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt over top. Cover and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.
- Remove the cover from the pot from the heat. Take the plate off the rolls and let the rolls cool off. They will be much easier to remove from the pot once they have cooled off and firmed up.
- Serve warm, or at room temperature.
Leave a Comment
I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
May I call you “cousin,” Maureen? Certainly you may use same here. Here I am in a valley of grapevines, knowing that, come spring and the tender leaves, I will be making this variation of stuffed grape leaves, thanks to YOU! Wonderful! And the image of your cousin Patti carried a hefty container of the leaves from Detroit tells the story of their deliciousness.
Thank you dear cousin Toni! I bet your valley is shining beautiful right now…
I take extra tabouleh, add chick peas and roll in the grape leaves. I call it my Yullah Grape Leaves. It is a great way to use up left over tabouleh.
Just today we made some vegetarian Yabra.
We also add tamarind paste (that we make at home) to the cooking water and it is absolutely priceless.
Thank you for that recipe and those great pictures!
That sounds wonderful with the homemade tamarind paste! Thank you!
This is beautiful. All of it. Now…grape leaves…
Hi Cuz ;
Cuz is what we have shortened it to around our neighborhood, northwest of Pittsburgh, called Aliquippa. I was born of a Lebanese Dad and Italian Mom so I like to believe I got the best of both worlds as far as food goes.
As my Mother, Sittu and Nana are all gone now, but am thankful that my sister has acquired the skill and passion to carry on the family meals. Sure miss the old days and having the old timers around, Really do not appreciate it all until its gone. Thanks for all you do here, really enjoy taking a break from the busy life to read your articles.
Thank you cuz! You are so right about missing the older generations.
You brighten every day I read your blog. I had to laugh when you wrote you sometimes call Peg your cousin! Aunt Hilda would be SO impressed by the uniformity and beauty of you grape leaves. Your description of these makes me want to make them….NOW!
Bless you Cousin!
I put some thick slices of potatoes and carrots in the bottom of the pot. They prevent the grape leaves from burning and soak up all the delicious broth and flavors.
Cousin, this is wonderful a recipe, I have never had the vegetarian grape leaves, I love the meat, but will have to try these. And yes Aunt Hilda would be proud, these are beautiful.
I came across your blog after reading an NPR article about za’atar. My two sons, 8 and 13, are vegetarians and love Mediterranean cuisine; I cannot wait to try this recipe, and to devour more of your beautiful musings!
Julie, how great! Thanks for taking time to comment–I’ll be interested to know how the young vegetarians enjoy the grape leaves. I anticipate a hit!
You know if you’re feeling a little lazy and just want the flavor without the presentation you can make what I would guess would be called a grape leaf casserole. Just put the rice in a bowl, add water, coarsely chop the grape leaves, add any spices, meats, fillings, etc. Then just pop in the microwave for 20 minutes or so.
A lot easier and tastes the same. Of course, kids can’t pretend they are eating cigars as we did growing up.
Okay – enough of this lurking … I can’t take it anymore. So you can add another “cousin”. First-generation American, both parents born in Lebanon in Masser El Shouf (or Chouf … I’ve never been sure) with a mother whose food I miss so much. She was an amazing cook.
It’s funny that I looked at this recipe, because just this very day I was thinking of asking if you’d ever had something my mother used to make. It was Swiss Chard leaves, stuffed with rice and chick peas. So, so good – we would eat them cold, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. As far as I remember, she never did this filling in grape leaves, but I imagine they’re every bit as good.
I’ve very much enjoyed reading your recipes and comments and no more lurking, because there are so many recipes that are close, but not quite like Ma used to make … that I’ve wanted to share.
So I hope you can make room at your table for one more “cousin” 🙂
Virginia, cousin, welcome! Thanks so much for taking a moment to write. I imagine you miss your mother and her food deeply, and how great you are keeping the traditions alive. Her stuffed Swiss Chard sounds amazing….
Oh Maureen … I had no idea you answered my post! Usually with blogs you get an email if your replies are accepted and/or answered. I guess yours doesn’t work this way? I’ll have to be more diligent about checking back.
The summer has just come and (almost) gone and I haven’t been doing much cooking. Although I did make cousa last week with just rice (no meat) and it came out very good. I found the perfect yellow squash … nice a fat and strait – pretty easy to hollow out.
A friend wants to learn how to make baked kibbeh and yours was one of the links I sent her … I discovered that it’s a hard dish to explain – I guided her to a few YouTube videos as well. Hopefully she’ll muddle through … but now I want a pan of it so badly after talking about it and looking at recipes and the way other people make it (so many different ways)!
Someone on YouTube called the raw mix of meat and bulgar “dough” and that was a new one on me!
Next, I want to talk about tabooli … I am so curious about how others make it, as it’s very different from the way my mother and close relatives made it.
Oh, I just found your “subscribe” feature … I should be all set now.
Maureen. In the vegetarian grape leaf recipe you have added chick peas (rinsed). Are these drained and rinsed CANNED chickpeas, soaked and rinsed DRY chickpeas. Or just rinsed DRY chickpeas?
I fell in love with Lebanese food when introduced to it by the amazing Miss Annetta in Akron, Ohio. She was no bigger than a minute but could eat 5 scoops of coffee ice cream and at a pot luck, always managed to stand, later, sit next to the plate of deviled eggs she Knew I made just for her. When the plate neared empty she glared at anyone who approached it.
She was in her 80’s and still volunteering at the hospital when we met her and at nearly 100 was taking remote classes at the University so she wouldn’t get stale.
It’s too late to make this story short, but she once mentioned that back when she still cooked, she would heat the brine from the grape leaf jar and use it to soften and flavor tougher greens for use in rice dishes. Does your family do that?
I love your cookbook and your blog. Your stories touch my heart.
What a beautiiful and fun note!! Thank you for sharing your special memories. As for the grape leave brine, I have not tried that adnn it sounds excellent!
I’ve made grape leaves for years, but don’t know the answer to this! Can I freeze already stuffed and cooked grape leaves? I’d like to make them ahead for a family celebration. Thanks!
Shari, that’s a yes! My mother-in-law always made her pot ahead and froze, though she didn’t cook til day-of. I’ve frozen cooked grapeleaves and they warmed up beautifully, so not to worry there. Just refresh with some broth or lemon juice when rewarming, covered, in the oven.
Very excited about your vegan recipe for koosa & grapeleaves. I’m in Arizona & our markets no longer want to order lamb. So sad. I love it above beef. So these veggie dishes got my curiosity going.
Is there a decent jar of grapeleaves anyone can recommend that are not tough & hard veined. And they are huge sometimes—Sitto & mom called them “ diapers”. Ha. Ha. Conjures funny picture!
Love love your wonderful videos! Love the beauty of the food shown. Love that there’s still so much love in preparation instead of how quick to make, how fast to eat, hurry to get off table. I miss the aftermath of our meals. Sit, visit, coffee, conversation —-lost art.
Dolores thank you. We always try to find Orlando jarred grape leaves. My mother-in-law swore by them and so does the whole family. Diapers!! That’s hilarious! Thank you for your kind words and your insights about the time and love we infuse into our food and traditions. You said it perfectly. It’s a lost art that we must do our best to kindle, revive, and keep alive.