Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Koupepia (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

I first tried stuffed grape leaves in college and I was not a fan. Cold, stuffed with bland rice filling and possessing a completely unappealing squishiness, they were something I just couldn't get into it. True, they were store-bought and my friend adored them, but I was turned off. I tried them once or twice more after that, but each successive experience was the same as the first. I was turned off; in my mind, for good.Then Seth and I went to Cyprus this past August and I became obsessed with sampling every meze dish I came across, including, wouldn't you know, stuffed grape leaves. I was actually excited to try them because one, they were fresh and seemed a bit more authentic coming from Kakopetria as opposed to some grocery store in Virginia; and two, I know tastes change and am always willing to test mine.

Turns out that willingness is a good thing (duh, why else would I post this recipe?) but I have to give credit to the food: koupepia (little cigars) in Cyprus are stuffed with meat - not squishy, overcooked rice! - seasoned lightly with herbs, and ours were served simmered in a simple tomato sauce. There was no hint of the bland mush I was familiar with; these things were good.

So it is my luck that my bible of Middle Eastern cooking as a recipe for them and when better to try them out then the biggest eating day of the year (for Americans, at least)? As they can be served cold I decided to make them a day ahead because, oof, I was terrified of the seemingly complicated process of rolling. However, the only tedious part is separating the grape leaves without tearing them. For the koupepia you just lay a leaf shiny-side, spoon some filling in, fold up the bottom and sides, then fold to the end - just like a burrito. In practically no time I had a little army of meat cigars waiting to be simmered in broth. Mounch.

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Koupepia (Stuffed Grape Leaves) (slightly modified)
The Complete Middle East Cookbook

35 fresh or preserved grape leaves
1 small onion, finely chopped
2tbsp olive oil
1/2lb ground beef or lamb
1/4cup rice
1/4cup finely chopped parsely
2tsp finely chopped mint OR 1tsp dried mint
1 1/2tsp salt
1/2-1tsp ground black pepper
2tbsp lemon juice
1tbsp butter
2cups stock, flavor of your choice

1. Rinse leaves in cold water and blanch in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, then into a colander to drain.

2. Gently fry onion in oil until soft. Lightly mix beef (or lamb) with rice, onion and oil, herbs, salt and pepper until well-combined.

3. To shape Koupepia: place a leaf, shiny side down, on work surface. Snip off stem if necessary. Place about a tablespoon of meat mixture near stem end, fold end and sides over stuffing and roll up firmly (just like you would a burrito.)

4. Line base of a heavy pan with 6 leaves (use damaged ones) and pack Koupepia close together in layers. Sprinkle each layer with a little of the lemon juice.

5. Cover top rolls with remaining leaves. Add the butter and 2 cups stock with any remaining lemon juice. Invert a heavy plate over top to keep rolls in shape during cooking. (This is important, as the rolls not completely under my plate loosened and unfurled slightly.)

6. Bring to a slow simmer, then simmer gently for 1 hour (if you are doubling the recipe cook for 1 1/2 hours.) When finished remove rolls from pan and drain. Can be served immediately (and warm) or made in advance and served cold.

*- The rolls are tasty, but a bit dry and have the general atmosphere of missing something. My cookbook gives an egg and lemon sauce to serve with the warm koupepia, but in Cyprus I had them with a simple tomato sauce and think I will make one for tomorrow. I plan to simmer the rolls in the sauce to reheat them, so I'll let you know how they turn out.

Update - I simmered the rolls in a sauce made of crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and water (I don't even think I seasoned it - it was the last thing I did before serving Thanksgiving dinner, all right?) and it helped. These were the biggest hit of dinner.


  1. That looks delicious.I came across your site from the foodieblogroll and I'd love to guide Foodista readers to your site. I hope you could add this Grape leaves widget at the end of this post so we could add you in our list of food bloggers who blogged about Grape leaves, Thanks!

  2. Have never actually tried cooking with grape leaves at home, but we always order if on the menu. Thanks for your recipe, lets see if I can make.