So this week is my very best friend Simeon's last week in town before spending a year traveling to several different countries as a part of the World Race. Of course, we're very sad he's going, but at the same time, all very excited for everything that he will be experiencing. In the meantime, we're having parties, going on trips, and spending his last few days together making our very last memories while we can. He also asked me to make him a special home-cooked Middle Eastern meal, and I immediately thought of warak - better known to the rest of the world as dolmas or stuffed grapeleaves. Warak is an indispensable part of Middle Eastern cuisine. And Arab Americans often make them for a number of holidays, including birthdays and anniversary parties. (In fact, on Thanksgiving, warak is even commonly piled up on a tray next to the turkey and candied yams!) They differ from the dolma, cold Greek stuffed grapeleaves that are often filled with rice and spices and covered in olive oil. Warak are filled with lamb or beef and rice, served hot and often with labneh yogurt for eating together like one would use sour cream. And instead of olive oil, the grapeleaves simmer in tomato sauce, which ultimately absorbs itself into the rice and meat inside. (Long story short, the flavor's good. It's really good.)
Stuffed Grapeleaves (Warak Enab)
To Make The Stuffing:
1 to 1 1/2 cups lamb or beef (or both combined!), coarsely ground
1 cup rice
3 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp.pepper and allspice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
Wash rice and mix all the above ingredients together. If meat is lean, add 1 tbsp. of butter or margarine.
To Make Grapeleaves:
1 quart grapeleaves (usually found in a jar in ethnic markets)
Lemon juice to taste
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1. To stuff the leaves: If leaves are packed in salt and water, rinse and drain. If fresh, wash thoroughly and cover with hot water until limp. Drain and set aside.
2. Put 1 tsp. stuffing in the center of each leaf, on the rough side. Fold stem side horizontally over the stuffing, then fold the two vertical sides over the first fold. Then roll tightly until it reaches the leaf point, forming a cylinder 3" long by 1/2" thick. (Note: In my experience, you don't want to make these TOO tight. The rice expands considerably, and not giving them enough room to expand might cause some of your warak to break.)
3. Place rolls side by side and in layers in a large pot. Add tomato sauce.
4. Cover with water and sprinkle with salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 50 minutes or until done.
5. Add lemon juice and cook for 10 more minutes. To serve, turn the pan upside down in a platter while hot.