Stuffed Grape Leaves are popular in several Mediterranean countries and in the Middle East. It has different names depending on the region. I love these stuffed grape leaves. If you've never heard of them, they are grape leaves are stuffed with meat, rice, and spices. It is a lot of work and takes a long time but it is not complicated. Because it is time consuming, my mother makes this only once or twice a year. So, i figured, it's time to learn to make it on my own. Of course, my mom helped me. Or should I say, she made most of it because I wasn't rolling fast enough. But, practice makes perfect, and hopefully soon, I'll be rolling them on my own. Or, just make a party out of it and invite some family and friends to help you.
The best time to make them is late spring/early summer, when the fresh grape leaves can be picked from the vines or found at your local Middle Eastern supermarket. If you don't have access to fresh grape leaves, you can find jars of grape leaves at Middle Eastern or Mediterranean markets, or even at larger grocery stores. You will need to either rinse and boil the fresh leaves or drain and rinse the jarred ones and flatten them before proceeding with the recipe.
For the stuffing:
2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 cups uncooked arborio or short grain rice
1 tomato, pureed
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup melted butter or ghee
1 (16oz) jar grape leaves or about 75 fresh grape leaves
6 - 8 Mexican Squash or Zucchini
2 pounds oxtail shanks
4 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
Boil Oxtail with bay leaves, ground allspice, salt, and black pepper. Drain oxtail, keeping the broth.
Wash the rice and cover it with water, let it stand for 5 minutes. Drain the water of the rice and add ground beef, melted butter, oil, tomato, and spices. Mix with your hands until completely combined.
Thoroughly wash the squash or zucchinis, cut off the tops, and core them out. Fill them with the stuffing.
Place oxtail to the bottom of the pan.
Then, place the zucchinis in between the oxtail pieces.
Before you make your grape leaves, make sure that your leaves are clean, and the stems are removed. If using fresh grape leaves, start with washing the grape leaves. Boil for five minutes, or until tender. Arrange into stacks, facing the same direction. The leaves have a smooth side and a side with raised ribs. Make sure the ribbed side is facing up.
Take one leaf at a time, place one teaspoon of the stuffing on the leaf, and shape it like a small log.
Fold over the base of the leaf, pressing down. Turn the sides in. Roll as tightly as you can. (See image below.)
Start layering the rolled grape leaves, placing them seam side down in your pot, packing in your leaves close together, creating a new layer when necessary. Place an inverted heat-safe plate on top to prevent the grape leaves from unravelling.
Mix lemon juice in with the broth of the oxtail. Add the broth, enough to cover, and cook over medium heat for 2 1/2 hours.
When cooked, make sure no or very little broth is left in the pot, place a large tray over the pot, and carefully flip the pot over to serve. If you see there's a lot of liquid coming out of the pot when you flip it, before lifting the pot from the tray, drain the liquid. Serve hot with lemon slices and/or yogurt.