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How to make stuffed vine leaves from the Levant

Served hot or cold, yelanji is the basis for a great vegetarian dish
Stuffed vine leaves originate from the Levant region (@kitchnjoys/Instagram)

There's nothing more delicious than a yelanji plate or, as it is more commonly called in English, stuffed vine leaves. 

This scrumptious  vegetarian dish originates from the Middle East, specifically from the Levant region around Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.

For many, including myself, it evokes nostalgic memories of childhood. The first time I was introduced to it was when my family and I were visiting Syria one summer and our Damascene neighbours brought over a freshly cooked batch. It was love from the delicious first bite.


Recipe

Serves: 6-8 people

Preparation and cooking time: 2½-3½ hrs (depending on how fast you roll the vine leaves...)

Stuffed vine leaves can be served hot or cold (@kitchnjoys/Instagram)

1. Ingredients 

  • 2 cups (400g) short grain rice
  • 1 bunch of parsley, chopped 
  • 2 onions, finely chopped 
  • 2 tomatoes, finely diced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 potato, sliced 
  • 500g (1.1lb) jar of vine leaves
  • ¾ cup (180ml) virgin olive oil 
  • ½ cup (120ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice 
  • ¼ cup (85g) pomegranate molasses 
  • 3-4 (750ml -1l) cups of water
  • 2 tbsp mint, dried
  • 1 tbsp sumac
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Ingredients are simple - rolling the leaves can get tricky (@kitchnjoys/Instagram)

2. Method

  1. Wash the vine leaves and then immerse them in boiling water for 10 minutes. Take out and drain.
  2. In a bowl, add the rice, parsley, onions, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and pomegranate molasses and spices. Mix well.
  3. Take a vine leaf and make sure the softer side of the leaf is face-down and that the leaf stem is removed.
  4. Take ¾ of a tbsp of the filling and place it in the middle of the leaf.
  5. Fold the sides of the leaf inwards, then roll the leaf neatly.
  6. For bigger leaves, cut the leaf in half lengthways, then add the filling and roll.
  7. Strain the filling and collect the juices to use later (see 10 below).
  8. Place the potato slices at the bottom of a pan. Place the stuffed vine leaves on top. Make sure that the edges of the leaves are facing down. Continue stacking rolls until all have been added.
  9. Place a ceramic plate on top of the stuffed vine leaves.
  10. Add the juices from the filling and also the water
  11. Cover with a lid and let it cook on a medium-high heat for 10-15 mins. Then turn down the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for 1½ hrs. 
  12. Check the taste and tenderness of the leaves: if needs be, cook them for longer.
  13. Once cooked, remove from pan and collect the broth in a bowl (you can use this for a soup on the side).
  14. Serve in a dish and garnish with slices of lemon and fresh mint leaves

This recipe can also be allowed to cool if you prefer your vine leaves cold (or simply keep in the fridge).

You can follow Eaman on her Instagram account @kitchnjoys