Everybody loves bundled food. Wraps, burritos, calzones, you name it — they’re all popular. Grape leaves make great bundles, too, especially when you wrap them around Mediterranean ingredients like herbed olives, roasted peppers, and za’atar. (That spice blend includes sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, oregano, and salt.) With all of that plus whole-grain rice, these grape leaf bundles are quite filling, but of course you could throw in some chopped cooked chicken if you like, or add some savory feta cheese.
These are on-the-spot grape leaf bundles vs. the typical cooked bundles. That means the leaves are a little more chewy than they would be if you had braised/baked them. If you’d rather have softer leaves, you could nestle them into a baking dish, pour a little chicken broth or dry white wine over them, and bake them for about 10 minutes in a 350F oven.
And incidentally, if you’re a fan of classic Mediterranean ingredients and you’d like to take part in a sandwich competition, Mezzetta – a producer of all things Mediterranean, from olives to peppers to various pickled veggies — is hosting a contest that’ll wrap up by the end of Labor Day. Here’s to the glory of pickled and roasted condiments!
Grape Leaf Bundles with Red Rice, Olives, Roasted Peppers & Za’atar
Serves 2 people for a hearty meal.
About 2 cups cooked red or brown rice (simmer 1 cup of raw rice and 2 cups water over low heat, covered, for about 35 minutes or until grains have absorbed all of the water)
Roasted red pepper, chopped (jarred or homemade)
Assorted herbed and pitted olives of your choice, chopped
3 green onions, green stalks only, minced
Feta, preferably made of sheep and/or goat milk (optional)
About 8 grape leaves (you can find these in Mediterranean shops or in the ethnic aisle of well-stocked grocery stores)
A sprinkling of za’atar (a blend of thyme, sumac, oregano, sesame seeds, and salt; blend your own with this recipe or sprinkle on a few pinches of whichever of those herbs/seasonings you have on hand)
Prepare rice. Since cooked rice will keep in the fridge for a week, you might wish to make extra. Whole-grain rice + whole milk = very nutritious and inexpensive cereal! When rice is cooked, remove it from the stove and stir in peppers, olives, onions, and feta (if using).
Unroll 8 leaves. The leaves typically come in a jar rolled into a tight cylinder, so to separate them, you’ll need to carefully but firmly pull the entire hunk of leaves out of the jar and unroll the entire amount. Re-roll the leftover leaves and refrigerate them for up to a month, being careful not to contaminate the leftover leaves with anything on your counter. (A bit of cheese in with the leaves, for example, could cause them to prematurely mold.)
Lay out a leaf with the ribs facing down and the bottom of the stem towards you. Top with a spoonful of rice mixture and a sprinkling of za’atar. Add feta if desired. Don’t overstuff your leaves! If you realize you’ve added too much filling while you’re trying to roll up the leaf, unroll it and take out some of the filling. Roll the leaves by folding down the top of the leaf, folding in the sides of the leaf, and then rolling up from the stem. Set each bundle seam-side-down on a plate. Repeat with all leaves, using more leaves if needed.
Leftover leaves can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, although you’ll need to either leave them out at room temp for a few hours before eating — which shouldn’t be a problem if you don’t have any meat or cheese in your bundles — or reheat them in a baking dish (see second lead-in paragraph for alternative prep instructions). Refrigerated rice isn’t very appetizing, but room-temp or reheated rice is quite lovely.
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