Mahshi Wara’ Enab
A recipe from our friend Heba Saleh of Mideats.com:
Whenever I tell anyone that I’m originally from Egypt and that I love to cook, the first question is usually: “Do you ever make stuffed grape/vine leaves (wara’ enab in Arabic)?” I smile; how could I not have made this old-time favorite? It’s almost in every Mediterranean culture to know the craft of making this gourmet masterpiece from the simple scraps – loose vine leaves, rice, and ground bits of meat. And a masterpiece it is – it’s one of my favorite meals of all time! Even my grandparents listed it as one of their favorite meals. Egyptians have likely borrowed the idea of stuffing grape vine leaves from their Greek neighbors who have purportedly been rolling for centuries.
In Egypt, most people cook it with beef, but when Christians fast from meat during Lent or Advent, they sometimes make a vegetarian version, which is sometimes served cold. When there’s no meat, we play up the rice with extra spices like dill or mint. It’s a rule: no meat, more spices. Some people even add tomato sauce to the vegetarian version which lacks the flavor-giving chicken or meat broth. But most Egyptians I know prefer the meaty version, in which they add only a pinch of salt and pepper, and rely on the broth to impart most of the hearty flavor.
We’ve also adopted a version of the tzatziki sauce (yogurt sauce) over dolamades tradition from the Greeks. The Egyptian yogurt sauce is simply made by mixing creamy Greek yogurt, chopped cucumber, crushed fresh mint, a minced clove of garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. The mixture subtly complements and highlights the rich taste of the meaty leaves. Some Egyptians who appreciate an even richer sauce on their stuffed grape leaves make a sauce called tarbiya, a variation of the Greek avgolemono, made from egg with lemon (beida bi-lemoune) mixed with broth and heated till it thickens. I haven’t tried making it yet, but it sure sounds delicious!
Without further ado, here’s the recipe that has been passed from one generation to the next in my Egyptian household. Simple, but delicious. And once you get the process down, it should take you no more than an hour to roll a hundred leaves.
Prep Time: 30 minutes to prepare the filling and an hour to roll the leaves
Cook Time: 35-40 minutes
one 1-lb. jar of brine-preserved Grape (vine) Leaves
2 cups Egyptian Rice (sushi rice is a great substitute because it has similar properties – short, thick and gets a bit sticky when it’s cooked)
1 lb. organic, grass-fed Ground Beef
2 cups homemade Chicken or Beef stock (you may use water if you’re out of stock, but the taste won’t be nearly as rich)
2 yellow Onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Grass-fed Organic Ghee
juice of half a Lemon
unrefined mineral salt and freshly ground black pepper
Open the jar of grape leaves, unroll the bunch of leaves, and thoroughly rinse under running water to remove most of the packaging liquid. Place on a strainer to drain.
For the filling: In a bowl, add 2 cups of uncooked rice, 1 lb. of organic ground beef, 2 thinly-diced onions, 2 tablespoons of ghee, salt and pepper, and mix well using a large fork to make sure all ingredients are well integrated.
On a large plate or cutting board, take one grape leaf and place on it about 1 teaspoon of the filling, as shown below:
Then, shape the filling into a cylinder and fold the bottom two sides of the grape leave up as shown:
Fold the right and left sides of the grape leave towards the middle, overlapping one side over the other and pulling in a bit to make sure it’s tightly folded in:
Start rolling the grape leaf upward tightly to close it off:
And there you have it – a nicely wrapped grape leaf…
As you’re wrapping, watch for torn leaves that are unsuitable for stuffing and place them in the bottom of the pot that you will be using to cook the grape leaves.
When you have stuffed and wrapped all the grape leaves, pile them in a circle in the pot:
Pour 2-3 cups of homemade chicken or meat broth to cover at least three-fourth of the pile of grape leaves in the pot. You can also mix the chicken/meat broth with water in whatever proportion to dilute for a lighter version of the dish, and add 2-3 cups of the diluted mix, but you will likely notice a slight difference in taste.
Cover the grape leaves with a heat-proof dish that fits into the pot to keep the leaves from unraveling while cooking. Leave on medium-high heat for a few minutes until the broth starts to boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and cook for about 35-40 minutes until the meat and rice are fully cooked.
Squeeze the juice of one lemon on top and enjoy either hot or cold, alongside tzatziki yogurt sauce or tarbiya if you like.
Stuffed grape leaves may take some time to roll individually, but it is definitely worth it! You can plan to make a bunch and freeze some, uncooked, in a pyrex dish until you’re ready to cook them at a later date (but no more than 3-4 months down the line). If you’re planning a get-together or potluck, consider having a ‘grape leaves rolling party’ where an assembly line of scooping enough filling and rolling can be optimized. Turn on some Middle Eastern music in the background for a little flavor!
This is a delicious dish, especially for all you meat-lovers, and the vegetarian version is also quite a treat. Which one do you plan on making?
Serves about 90 leaves, which feeds 10-15 people