Friday, August 5, 2011


Our Jacquie -- eloquent as always -- pondered upon the wonderful world of rolling stuffed grape leaves yesterday. (Beth commented she always thought they were Greek . . . you know, to her.)

The thing is, stuffed grape leaves -- a Lebanese delicacy -- are not referred to as "stuffed grape leaves" in our family. No, in our family, we call them wada. Short for wada-ah-ashe. Which, apparently, in the official Arabic-to English translation, is warak-a-ashe.

Wada-ah-ashe is gastronomic ecstasy. Since we were tiny tots, it's always the part of the Lebanese feast that gets eaten first, therefore the rolled pieces of heaven have to be counted and allocated per plate. When we were kids our Sittoo -- Dad's mom -- let us taste them while she was cooking in the kitchen. She'd tell us to come in and test the "hot dogs and beans" to see if they were ready. Swoon.

Ten or so years ago in Mom and Dad's kitchen in Norwalk, Uffie -- Sittoo's daughter and Dad's sister -- gave my sisters and me a tutorial on the fine art of Lebanese cooking (which our Irish mom had mastered years earlier) and she dictated the recipes, which I dutifully typed into our laptop. Unfortunately, we did *not* have access to Sittoo's recipe last weekend; thankfully, enough of my sisters have good Lebanese memory and good cooking skills and we had plenty of peeps and plenty of enthusiasm and as Jacquie reported, they came out divinely.

And since last weekend I've unearthed the warak-a-ashe recipe. And even though it is an old secret family recipe, well, I'm going to share it with you all; it's too awesome not to.

Share the love, yo.*

*And it's always helpful to wear Jammie Johnsons, er Ricky John Jones, er Paul Frank jammies while rolling.

Picking grape leaves:
•Look for wild white grape vines in mid-June/early July.

•The greener the back of the leaf, the tenderer the leaf. White leafed backs are tough.
•Good spot: Nursery Road in Norwalk.

•Soak in a dishpan then wash each one carefully
•Spread out to try on paper towel or dishtowel
•Package according to small, medium or large patches, with bigger leaves on the bottom of the pile.
•Wrap tightly in tin foil, put into plastic bags, freeze; they last forever.

To Roll:
•Start with larger grapeleaves for bottom layer, smaller leaves for next layers.

•Shiny side down. Pinch off stem. Throw pinched stem into pot.

•Put a teaspoon of meat stuffing onto leaf, right above the stem.

•Roll a few rolls, turn sides in, keep a-rolling.

•Don’t roll too tight, because as we know, rice swells.*

* MB's favorite instruction.

•Layer larger rolled wadas on bottom of pot, in rows, seam side down.

•For the next row, lay wadas in opposite direction from the row below it.

To cook:
• Cover bottom of pot with several large grapesleaves, shiny side up.
• Place salad-sized dish upside down on top of leaves.
• Sprinkle moderately with salt on top of plate.
• Sprinkle couple dollops of lemon juice on top.
• Add water until you can see water when you top the pan.
• Bring to a boil.
• Let boil for few minutes.
• Taste the liquid (tip the pot) for adequate seasoning – you should be able to taste a hint of lemon.
• Lower to active simmer.
• Cook for one hour.*

*(It totally takes two).

And . . . Voilà!

Oh! And if you're looking for create the entire Lebanese meal, remind me to share the famous Khouri Corey recipes for tabouli:

. . . and koosa:

 . . . it really helps if you've got lots of generations of family, and awesome Chapel-Hill-like peeps around you . . . 

And you can't argue with the result:

Bon Appétit!


Me, You, or Ellie said...

Ha! I just realized this "recipe" in merely instructions for picking and rolling -- not the list of ingredients for the filling.



Next time.

Hsin-Yi said...

Ellie, I noticed that too! I know where I can get some grape leaves, but what am I going to fill them with?

As usual, the pictures are beautiful, as is your family. Now I'm hungry and I guess it's going to be Saeed's for lunch!

Mom C said...

Wait,you didn't have access to Sitoo's recipe? Did you not look at dad's 3 ring folder self-made cook book with a chapter titled "Lebanese". I love this whole grape leaves tale - keep 'em coming... love, mom

Me, You, or Ellie said...

No, I did, Mom, but I thought the recipe was also *in* the "How to Pick and Roll" document. I think it's hilarious that it's not.


Me, You, or Ellie said...

Okay, now wait.....I think of Greek food when I think of stuffed grape leaves because I typically eat them in Greek restaurants, you know, dolmades. Yum. I love them.

But of course, of course you lesbians make and eat them as well :) Probably better. Only you call them wada, of course.

And I agree with MB, that is the very, very best instruction.


Me, You, or Ellie said...

Hilarious. we looked at the filling recipe too, because we made more! Remember when we were looking for it, my girl said she knew exactly where it was, then ran and got the poster she had made in 1st grade about making grape leaves with jidoo? Ach. Love.

great one, el.