Reprinted with permission from Sephardic Flavors: Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean (Chronicle Books).
Stuffed grape leaves are a culinary classic throughout Greece, Turkey, and most of the Middle East. They have long been favored by Sephardic Jews, as they can be prepared ahead of time and served on the Sabbath. Rice-stuffed yaprakes are generally offered cold, while most meat-filled leaves are served warm. Meri Badi’s version is somewhat original in that it uses fennel leaves along with the usual mint and parsley. If you like, line the pan with a layer of tomato slices before you add the filled grape leaves.
juice of 2 lemons
1 cup olive oil
36-40 brine-packed grape leaves, well rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup dried currants, plumped in hot water until softened and drained
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh fennel leaves
2/3 cup peeled, seeded, and diced tomato
1 cup long-grain white rice, soaked in water for 30 minutes and draine
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
To make the filling, warm the olive oil in a sautee pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sautee until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sautee for a few minutes longer. Add the drained rice to the sautee pan along with all of the remaining ingredients. Stir well and remove from the heat.
Lay out some of the grape leaves on a work surface, shiny side down. Snip off the stems with scissors. Place a teaspoon or so of the mixture near the stem end of a leaf. Fold the stem end over the filling, fold in the sides, and then roll up the leaf into a cylinder. Do not roll too tightly, as the rice expands during cooking. Repeat until all the filling is used.
Place the filled leaves, close to each other and seam side down, in a single layer in a wide saucepan. Pour the olive oil, lemon juice, and hot water to cover over them. Place 1 or 2 heavy plates only slightly smaller than the diameter of the pan on top of the leaves to weight them down. Make sure that the leaves are just covered with liquid, adding more hot water, if necessary.
Bring the liquids to a boil over medium heat, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently until the filling is cooked, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat, uncover, and remove the plate(s) so that the stuffed leaves can cool quickly.
Using a spatula, transfer the filled leaves to a platter. Cool to room temperature before serving. (They can be transferred to a container, covered, and refrigerated for up to 1 week; bring to room temperature before serving.) Accompany with lemon wedges and a bowl of yogurt.