Rolled Grape Leaves

In Likes, Recipes on September 24, 2010 at 11:58 am

My great grandmother, Grandma Joe, was an amazing cook. She entered her recipes into contests and regularly won ribbons, awards and prizes. (Maybe luck ran thick in her blood, because, unrelated to her cooking, she once won a house by describing her favorite part of it: the master bathroom!)

Grandma Joe was known for only using immediate family as guinea pigs. She would make a pie or two a day in an effort to perfect the filling, but hide away anything that fell short of perfection from guests in the basement freezer. My father was tortured growing up with assorted delicacies influenced by her husband’s Lebanese heritage, including her infamous rolled grape leaves. Mmmm, I can still smell them!

Grandma Joe passed away before the recipe was written down. Fortunately, a family friend, Annette, offered to spend the afternoon the other day teaching me how to make the rolled grape leaves the way her mother had taught her. Like my great grandmother, Annette had never written down the recipe so as we cooked I studiously took notes. For me this recipe is a memory that comes to life when the smell of the grape leaves fills the kitchen.

Rolled Grape Leaves:


1 Medium Saucepan with Lid & 1 Saucer OR 1 Large Pot with Lid & 1 Plate

1 Large Mixing Bowl

Paper Towels

1 Cutting Board

1 Sharp Knife


2 Jars of grape leaves (Imported, not from California – the imported ones are thinner, better)

~1.5 lbs ground beef (Grandma Joe traditionally used lamb)

~1/3 cup uncooked white rice

3/4 small can of tomato paste

½ stick of softened salted butter

~2 tsp cinnamon

~2 tsp salt

3 good dashes of Cayenne

Pepper to taste

1-2 lemons, wedged

2-3 chopped garlic “toes” (cloves)

Optional: Pork Chops or Chicken Wings or Rhubarb


  1. Open and drain jar of grape leaves. Gently remove leaves from jar and unroll while rinsing with running water. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.
  2. Combine meat and next 7 ingredients (through “pepper to taste”) in mixing bowl. Use hands to mix well. Add more tomato paste if mixture feels too dry.
  3. Separate grape leaves. Lay leaf on cutting board flat side down with the pointed side away from you & use a sharp knife to cut away any tough veins or stems. Place a small amount of meat mixture near the “stem” of the leaf and roll like a cigar (being sure to encase the ends).
  4. Place extra cut-off pieces of grape leaves in the base of the pot (to keep the rolls of sticking or burning). Pork chops, chicken wings or rhubarb can be substituted here as desired.
  5. Place a layer of rolls in the pot (all going one direction). Sprinkle with chopped garlic, salt, and lemon juice.
  6. Continue to layer rolls in pot, alternating directions with each layer & topping each layer with garlic, salt & lemon. (Rolls should not be packed in, but may touch.)
  7. Place saucer upside-down on top of the rolls. Fill the pot with water until it just reached the edge of the saucer. Place the pot on stove over… medium heat with lid tilted up slightly and bring to a boil.
  8. Boil for about 30 minutes, then put the lid all the way on, lower the temp and continue to cook for about 15 minutes.
  9. When the water has gone down (much like cooking rice) to about an inch and a half left, you’re done… note: this may not correspond directly with the times just expressed.
  10. Enjoy!

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