While I was walking through the market in the old city in Jerusalem, I overheard an Arab tour guide explaining what grape leaves were to the tourists he was showing around.
“Papers,” he said, in English. “You can stuff them with rice and meat or vegetables…Grape papers.”
In Arabic, leaves are literally “papers” (actually, it’s vice versa: papers are leaves, but anyway…). Later that day, the family I was staying with made “Meat on Leaves/Papers” for lunch (“la7meh 3a wara2”). Different from regular stuffed grape leaves, these ones are filled with meat only and then roasted in the oven till tender. Because the grape leaves are not boiled before being used, they hold up to the cooking and still have a bite to them, which was a really interesting textural experience for me. This dish was also ready in under 20 minutes, a big plus. It was my first time having this traditional dish from Jerusalem, and I loved it!
Fresh, green grape leaves (the fresher the better, because they’ll be more tender)
500g of ground meat
6-7 cloves of garlic (more if you like), crushed
1 bunch of parsley, very finely chopped
1 onion, finely grated
2 medium potatoes, finely sliced
2-3 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 a cup of lemon juice, or a pinch of”lemon salt” (ie citric acid), or some sour unripened green grapes (called “husrom” here); this is to make the dish sour
1 cup of chicken stock, optional; if you don’t want to use stock, use the same amount of water
Note: If you live in a country where you can get “kuftah” meat ready-made from the butcher, substitute the ground meat, parsley, and onions for half a kilo of ready-made kuftah. Then crush the garlic and add it to the kuftah, kneading till well-combined.
First, make your own kuftah meat. Combine the ground meat, parsley, and onion in a mixing bowl and knead well. Add salt&pepper to your liking. This is kuftah.
Add the crushed garlic, and continue to knead well. The more garlic the better!
Now for the grape leaves!
Take a grape leaf and lay it flat in your palm, with the shiny side facing down. Place a bit of meat in the middle of the leaf, then fold the edges of the leaf over it. It’s like wrapping up a package!
Place the wrapped leaves face down in a baking dish.
When you’re done with the leaves, layer the slices of potato and tomato on top. This is optional by the way; if all you want are leaves, just do leaves! But the veggies do give the dish a nice bit of extra flavor.
Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over everything. The more, the better! Add salt&pepper to taste also.
Pour your chicken stock over everything. If you don’t want to use stock, you can just use water (same amount). Also add the lemon juice/sprinkle of citric acid/sour, green unripened grapes at this point.
Cover (you can use foil) and put the dish into a medium oven until the potatoes get tender, and the meat in the leaves cooks through.
After it’s cooked, you can put it under the broiler for a few minutes so the vegetables blacken a bit. I liked it this way!
Serve with fresh bread, yogurt, pickles, and fresh sliced veggies. When I was eating this, I felt like I was consuming a really wholesome meal; you get a bit of meat and a lot of vegetable all in one convenient package! The grape leaves were fresh, sour, and not too soft. (My great aunt, who has false teeth, did not eat the leaves. She picked the meat out of them and left the leaves off to the side. Sorry if that’s gross.)
I thought it would be fun to share some of the wonderful experiences I had while in Palestine. Not all of the things pictured below are edible, but they are all yummy! Enjoy!
Beautiful tomatoes in my great aunt’s house in Khalil…
Juicy, thirst-quenching loquats off the tree in their garden..Eskadenya!
Steaming hot knafeh, the cheese so stretchy, dripping with sugar syrup!
Wild poppies everywhere!
Pots and pots of authentic Khalili ‘idrah roasting away in a hot oven…
I walked on ancient stone roads, down winding alleyways, and under dusty arches…
Morning glories drape the walls of the old city in Khalil…
Of hand-made pottery…
… and stained glass…
Crunchy sesame seeds at the press where they make sesame oil…
Then off to Jerusalem, to be greeted by a luscious fruit dish!
With mini apples, baby apples! Little tiny sugar apples…
… that you can cup in the palm of your hand!
The journey towards holiness begins …
… and ends.
Always a fresh, wholesome meal waiting at home… thick, tangy yogurt…
… warm, fresh bread…
… and a perfect, pink end to an amazing trip :)
I have been away for the past ten days, traveling across the West Bank. I didn’t have any internet access, so updating this blog was impossible. But I’m back, and excited to start updating again inshallah :)
My aunts really like one particular Syrian dish that has a very peculiar name. In Arabic, it’s called “7orra2 Usba3oh” – I think. Which sounds something like “his finger is burning,” or perhaps “his finger is spicy.” Every time I ask my aunts to clarify the name and its origin, they end up telling me “who knows about those Syrians.” So I’m still pretty confused. But what I do know for sure is that the dish is REALLY good. It’s a bit strange, because of the combination of macaroni and dill/cilantro, but it’s a nice, light, cool lunch for a hot day. The closest thing I can compare it to in American cuisine would be a cold casserole. My aunts say this dish is a “women’s dish;” something quick and light that women enjoy making and eating, but definitely not satisfying enough for a hungry man, apparently. I’ll let you be the judge!
250 grams of brown lentils
250 grams of macaroni, cooked al dente, any shape (shells, bows, elbows)
3-4 tbsp of flour
3-4 tbsp of tamarind paste, soaked in hot water for a couple hours
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 bunches of cilantro and dill, finely chopped
half a loaf of pita bread, torn into little pieces
Boil the lentils in a pot of salted water, then cover and let simmer until half-cooked. Do not drain! Add the macaroni to the pot of lentils.
Rub the soaked, softened tamarind paste between your fingers over a strainer, letting the juice fall through into a bowl. Extract as much juice as possible out of the paste. Add the juice to the pot of lentils and macaroni.
Dissolve 3-4 tbsp of flour in a bit of cold water, stirring till smooth. Add this to the pot of lentils and macaroni, and stir immediately. The contents of the pot will thicken. You want the consistency to be pretty thick. Add more flour-dissolved-in-water if necessary.
Add half of the crushed garlic, half of the chopped cilantro and dill to the pot, and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Add salt if needed. Set the pot aside.
In a frying pan, heat some olive oil, and fry the sliced onions till crispy and golden. Take the onions out and let them drain on a paper towel.
Pour the olive oil left over from your frying pan into the pot of lentils and macaroni. Give it a good stir.
Sautee the rest of the crushed garlic and chopped cilantro and dill in another couple tbsp of olive oil. Stir while sauteeing, until the greens wilt a bit. Set aside.
Fry the torn pieces of pita bread until golden and crispy. Note: In the original dish, they do not use pita bread. The women traditionally prepare a special dough, and roll it out very thinly. They then cut the dough into little pieces and fry it. Pita bread is a much easier and equally tasty substitute.
Now, to assemble: In a baking/casserole dish, pour the lentils+macaroni mixture. Spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the crispy pita bread chips all over the top. Sprinkle the fried onions on top of that. Finally, scoop little spoonfuls of the sauteed garlic+cilantro+dill over everything decoratively.
Chill. Eat with a spoon! The tamarind juice gives the dish a bit of sourness, and the garlic with the greens is a powerful burst of flavor. I know, it looks kind of strange but I think it’s really tasty, and I am glad they introduced me to it!