Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Lebanon, and over the past month as I’ve cooked up delicious Lebanese dishes with Mama, I have found myself longing more than ever before for a taste of it, for the experience of walking through the souk, eating a manoushi bi zaatar fresh out of the bakery oven, picking fresh mint out of the garden or sweet figs off a tree.
I was only 8 years old when we immigrated to Canada, and I have yet to return, but I have vivid memories of sitting on the terrace of my grandparents home to have breakfast, which turned into lunch and then dinner, it was a feast that never ended. I still recall the women in my family picking leaves off the grape vines the day before and spending hours in the kitchen cooking up meals which included Mujaddara, Tabbouleh, Hummus bi Tahini, Babaghanoush, and Warak Arish Mahshi among other amazingly delicious dishes.
I sometimes wonder if our early childhood memories are real, or if they are based on stories we’ve been told.
Warak Arish Mahshi or stuffed grape vine leaves are a popular middle eastern dish that you have most like heard about, seen or tried at some point. If you haven’t tried them, get ready to start rolling or get to your neighbourhood middle eastern restaurant ASAP cause you’re missing out.
The Greeks call them Dolmades and the Turkish refer to them as Dolma while the Lebanese know them as Warak Arish Mahshi – warak meaning leaves, arish meaning vine, and mahshi meaning stuffed, hence stuffed vine leaves or stuffed grape leaves.
The traditional Lebanese recipe is made with white rice and lamb or beef and served with yogurt. But they can also be made meatless, as we’ve made them here. Another one of Mama’s vegan adaptations of a Lebanese classic.
We used grape leaves conserved in salt water which Mama says she prefers as they tend to be more tender. Back in Lebanon, they used to pick them in the late Spring and conserve them in jars of salt water for use all year round.
This recipe is a childhood favourite and a comfort food I crave regularly. What’s your comfort food?
Mama's Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves (Warak Arish Mahshi)
Recipe and Photography by Nissrine @ Harmony à la Carte
Warak Arish Mahshi are traditional Middle Eastern stuffed grape vine leaves, common in Lebanon, Greece and Turkey. This vegan and whole grain version of the traditional Lebanese recipe is stuffed with a delicious mixture of brown rice, tomatoes, parsley, fresh dried mint, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and ground pepper. A perfect appetizer or side dish for your next meal.
For brown rice filling:
- 1 Cup Long or Short Grain Brown Rice
- 10 Cherry Tomatoes or 1/4 C Tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 C Fresh Italian Parsley, chopped
- 1 Lemon, Freshly Squeezed
- 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/4 Tsp Fresh Dried Mint (we dried our own, but you could use store bought dried mint as well)
- 1/2 Tsp Sea Salt
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 60-70 Grape Vine Leaves, in brine (1 jar 430 g gross weight, 260 g net weight)
- 1 Lemon,Thinly Sliced Crosswise
- 1 1/2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Drain grape vine leaves and soak them in a large bowl of water. Gently separate and wash the leaves, stack them on a plate and set them aside, covered with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out, until you’re ready to start rolling them.
- Place 1 cup of brown rice and 3 cups of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Let boil on medium heat, uncovered, for about 20 minutes until half cooked. Drain and let cool.
- Add rice to a large mixing bowl and top with diced tomatoes, chopped parsley, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of EVOO, sea salt, ground black pepper and dried mint. If using fresh dried mint, separate the leaves from the stems and pulverize the mint between the palm of your hands directly above the mixture so that it falls into the bowl. Mix well to combine
- Line the bottom of a pot with some grape leaves.
- Begin stuffing and rolling the rest of the grape leaves.
- Place a grape leaf in one hand, scoop about 1 heaping teaspoon of the rice mixture into the center and carefully fold in the sides and roll it like you would when making a wrap. Make sure that it is rolled tightly enough not to unravel when cooking, but not too tightly because the rice needs some room to expand when cooking.
- Neatly arrange the stuffed and rolled grape leaves in rows, alternating directions, to completely cover the circumference of the pot, in as many layers as necessary until you have rolled and arranged all of them. Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of EVOO between layers and on top.
- Top with thinly sliced lemon.
- Place a small plate or pot lid directly on top of the leaves, to prevent them from floating while they cook.
- Add water to completely cover the grape leaf rolls and reach the plate or pot lid.
- Bring to a boil over medium high heat, reduce heat to medium and let simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 35-40 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed.
- Since cooking time varies by stove top, taste the grape leaves, and if the rice still seems undercooked, you can add 1/4 cup of water and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool uncovered until you can handle them with your fingers, then carefully transfer them to a serving dish, one by one.
They can be served hot, warm, cold or at room temperature and are traditionally dipped in yogurt and eaten with pita bread. For a vegan alternative, try dipping them in a vegan yogurt or hummus bi tahini spread.