The one thing I regret saying in my latest video is that stuffed grape leaves (warak dawali) is the most difficult Middle Eastern dish to make. I really take that back. It’s actually quite easy, but just a little time consuming–which is why enlisting the help of family makes it more special! Some friends I know have had a bad experiences with stuffed grape leaves in Middle Eastern restaurants, saying they had an odd pickled flavor. Some restaurants take shortcuts and serve the canned version, hence the briny flavor and the undercooked rice. All the more reason to take the time to make this yourself, because it truly is one of the most delicious and gratifying meals you can ever make! With fresh grape leaves, and fragrant meaty stuffing, warak dawali boiling in a pot of tomato goodness will make you a convert. This is basically the Arab version of Greek dolmas–and a shout out to the Greeks who appreciate these leaves as much as we do!
I have the fondest memories of picking grape leaves as a child. My parents would drive us out to Napa Valley in the early summer, an hour drive away from San Francisco. They would knock on the vintner’s doors and ask permission to pick the grape leaves, not the grapes. While the vintners seemed puzzled, they always somehow said yes. So we grabbed our large trash bags and started picking for hours. Then we’d get home exhausted and sunburned, but triumphant that we were going to eat the best warak dawali this side of the Middle East. We would then spend the next day with scissors, clipping the stems off of every leaf before my mother prepared them for freezing. If you do have fresh grape leaves, you can freeze any you don’t want to use in plastic bags. Just be sure you pick the leaves when they are young and tender, and are at least 4 inches in diameter. The best grape leaves are smooth, not furry. If you don’t have fresh grape leaves you can use the ones from the can sold in Middle Eastern grocery stores–just make sure you rinse them first. The canned ones might be labeled warak dawali or warak ennab, which means the leaf of the grape plant. You will transform the flavor of the store bought leaves with your own fresh stuffing. You can substitute brown rice for white rice, just increase the cooking time by about 10 minutes. A great trick my mother uses to keep these gems intact while cooking? Place a small flat plate on top of the pot–this works every time! Check out the video below to watch my mom (Mrs. Warak Dawali expert) and I make a sublime pot of this delicacy. Also, a special announcement! For those that want step by step detailed instructions to my recipes, I now am in a collaboration with Curious.com to provide just that! As my cookbook is not ready yet, this is the next best thing. Curious.com is the hottest virtual online classroom, where you can learn everything from photography, to cooking, to playing an instrument. Right now they are having a special–sign up and you get 20 free credits, basically 20 free dollars to spend on this learning adventure. You can check out my recipes in full detail here: http://curious.com/feastinthemiddleeast Would love to see feedback on this latest recipe–and thanks to all of you subscribers, you inspire me to keep going!