Meat on Leaves… or Paper!
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.)