Warak-anab: Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves
Published: January 7, 2019
One of my favorite expressions in French is bon-vivant. Here is the definition according to Larousse:
"qui prend la vie du bon côté, qui aime les plaisirs, en particulier ceux de la table"
In other words: "one who enjoys life - in particular the pleasures of the table (eating and drinking)". To me, the term conjures up memories of my family around the table eating, visiting, and laughing for hours on end.
My father’s family is Lebanese, and I grew up in a Lebanese church. It is a part of my heritage that has always been particularly close to my heart. We have a loud, big family, made even more so because the whole clan - second and third cousins twice removed included - has remained close and enjoys getting together at the holidays, from wherever we have landed.
At the center of these gatherings you will always find several large platters of home-cooked Lebanese food: Tabouleh, Kibbeh, Spinach Pies, Lubneh, Loobyeh. But most of all, what you’ll see on everyone’s plate is Stuffed Grape Leaves, or Warak-anab.
There are many varieties depending on regions and culinary traditions, but here’s my family’s recipe:
1 bottle of grape leaves in brine
2 lbs ground lamb (you can do it with beef, but I think lamb tastes better)
1 C long grain white rice
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs. Lemon juice
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tbs allspice
1 tbs nutmeg
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 qt chicken broth
Mix the lamb, rice, oil, juice, and spices together in a bowl.
Pull the leaves out of the jar (do this over a sink - the brine usually spills out!)
Unroll the leaves on a plate.
You’ll notice that the stem and veins of the leaf stick out on one side, and the leaf is flat on the other side
Place one leaf in front of you with the side with stem and veins facing up, and the stem towards you. If the stem sticks out more than a nub past the leaves, cut it with kitchen scissors.
Grab a tablespoon or two of the meat mixture with your hands and shape it into a log in the middle of the leaf.
Fold the bottom (stem side) of the leaf up over the log. Fold the sides of the leave on top, then roll the meat in the leaf like a burrito. Make sure to tuck and roll as tightly as you can.
Set it aside, and repeat with the rest of the leaves and meat.
Get a large pot, put enough water in the pot to just cover the bottom. Place tinfoil over the bottom. This prevents the leaves from sticking to the pot or burning.
Stack one layer of the stuffed leaves on top of the tinfoil. Fit in as many as you can without forcing them.
Sprinkle a light layer of garlic salt over your stuffed leaves, and stack a second layer of leaves on top of them, facing the opposite direction. (E.g: if the first layer was laid left-right in the pan, put this layer in top to bottom).
When the pan is full, place a plate on top. This keeps the leaves from expanding too much and breaking open.
Pour the chicken broth into the pot until the leaves are just covered. If you run short on broth, you can use water.
Bring the broth to a boil and let simmer 30 minutes.
Take the pot off of the fire and remove the plate carefully. Most of the broth will have been absorbed by the rice in the leaves. Eat immediately with plain greek yogurt, or store in an airtight container for about a week.
Sahtein! Bon Appetit!
Colette is a French teacher in a high school in Minneapolis who enjoys discovering and embarking on life's little adventures each day with her friends, family, colleagues, and students. She was a weekend camper at Lac du Bois - Bemidji in middle school and finally found her way back to CLV last year when she worked at Lac du Bois - Hackensack as one of the credit instructors. Looking forward to many years of adventures in French with CLV!
recipe photo thanks to Maureen Abood