Despite taking quite a lot of folding these beauties are entirely worth the effort and infinitely better than any tinned imitations. Listening to the radio whilst you neatly fold these perfectly-formed parcels is soothing for the soul. Olive oil, lemon and mint are the very basis of this dish, resulting in zesty, delicious morsels which make the perfect starter or part of a wider mezze spread, accompanied by hummus, flatbreads, grilled haloumi and tabbouleh salad perhaps. Vine leaves can be purchased vaccum-packed or tinned from specialist shops or online.
For the filling
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 white onions (peeled and finely diced, about 250g)
1 tsp of turmeric
a pinch of cayenne
3 tbsp of dried mint
250g of risotto rice
2 tsp of sea salt
juice of 2 lemons (about 120ml)
2 small bunches of fresh mint, chopped (about 30g)
200g green grapes
juice of 2 lemons
120ml of olive oil
First prepare the leaves. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and place the leaves in it. Return to the boil and remove from the heat. Allow them to sit in the water for 10 mins. This is a hugely important stage as it softens the leaves and helps control the salt levels. Make sure not to overcook them as they will stick together and possibly tear, which causes all sorts of issues when folding.
To make the filling, place the oil, cinnamon stick and onions in a saucepan. Cook on a medium heat so the onions soften without colouring. When they become translucent, mix in the turmeric, cayenne and dried mint. Add the rice and salt and mix well to coat all over. Pour in the lemon juice allowing it to be absorbed then add the water and leave to simmer until most of the water has been absorbed. The onion-rice mixture should be sticky enough to allow for scooping. Remove from the pan into a bowl and leave to cool. Once cool, stir in the fresh mint.
Lay the leaves on a flat surface with their shiny side down. If you're unsure, the shiny outer side is darker in colour with thick veins. If there are any stems, cut them gently with scissors as they are tough to eat. Top each leaf with a tsp of the onion-rice mixture and fold into a parcel - bring the sides of the lead over first, then roll it up until you have a small log about the size of your thumb. Watch this video for a run-through. Continue making the parcels until you run out of either the leaves, mixture or patience, leaving any ripped leaves to the side.
Cut the leeks into thick slices, break the grapes up into little clusters of 3-5 (stalks on) and wash everything.
Slice the lemon thinly and then choose a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, that will contain all the ingredients and fit all your vine leaves snugly. Line the base with any leftover or torn leaves and scatter with some of the sliced lemons, leeks and grapes. Cover with the vine leaves in a tight layer, use a plate to squash them down. Top with the remaining leeks, lemons, grapes and any remaining leaves.
Pour over the lemon juice and olive oil then place the pan on the heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes - this will release some of the liquid from the leeks and grapes. Then add the boiling water so the leaves are just covered and return to the boil. Cover with a lid and simmer for a further 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat and check that the majority of the liquid has disappeared. Pull a stuffed vine leave and test to make sure the rice is cooked. If there is still water remaining but the rice is cooked, drain most of the liquid out.
Allow the vine leaves to completely cool before returning them from the pan as they will keep their shape better. Serve warm with the grapes and leeks as a garnish. They will last 3-5 days in the fridge.