Stuffed Vine Leaves

Start cooking 11/2 cups brown rice; you will want to stop it just short of being fully cooked. Meanwhile, chop 1-2 medium onions, finely: you will have about 11/2 cups onions. Saute the onions and 2 cloves minced garlic in olive oil. Season with salt pepper and herbs; I used a mixture of fresh thyme, dried thyme and dried oregano. Add 11/4 pounds ground meat; I used turkey, but lamb or beef will give a more flavorful result. Saute until cooked, but don’t dry it out, and be sure to keep it broken into small bits.

While the rice is finishing up, prepare the vine leaves. I used a 2-pound jar of leaves (but only used about half of the leaves in the jar). Fresh leaves would be better, but you’d need to pour boiling water over them to soften them up. Rinse the leaves, remove the stems and arrange them in stacks so the side with the veins is up. Don’t use torn leaves or ones with many holes.

When the rice is almost cooked, add the drained rice to the mixture and check the seasonings. Now start filling. With the stem end facing you and the veined side up, put a spoonful of filling at the center of the leaf. Fold the left and right lobes nearest the step over the filling at a 30-degree angle, then bring the sides in and finish rolling up. Squeeze it a bit to hold it in shape and put it in a steamer basket. (You want a steamer with a flat surface, not a basket made for steaming vegetables.) Pack them tightly.

Put the steamer into a pot with water in the bottom and a tight-fitting lid. Steam for 45 minutes: the leaves will have softened up. Check the water level from time-to-time because if it runs out, you’ll burn up all your hard work.

This makes a really large number of stuffed leaves, but the exact number will vary according to how large the leaves are that you use.

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