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May’s Stuffed Vine Leaves With Mint Labne

This multi-course one-pot meal is traditional and delicious
May’s Stuffed Vine Leaves With Mint Labne
Mark Roper

Ask any good Lebanese boy what his favourite home-cooked dish is, and the chances are that he will nominate his mum’s dolma — stuffed vine leaves.

This is Greg’s mother’s recipe, which we both love, not just because it tastes delicious, but because of the neat way in which both the first course and meat course are prepared together in one large pot.

The idea is simple: After filling the vine leaves with a traditional rice stuffing, they are placed on top of lamb chops in a large pot.

During the cooking process, all the bubbling juices rise to impregnate the stuffed vine leaves. These you eat first, with plenty of creamy yoghurt, and then follow with the meat course.

Labne (yoghurt cheese) is the simplest of cheeses made regularly around the Middle East. It is infinitely versatile and lends itself to savoury and sweet flavourings. You could try adding a teaspoon of garlic purée, for instance, or swirl in a spoonful of harissa, or other fresh herb purées such as basil, oregano or dill. Sweet versions can be made with a splash of rosewater, orange-blossom water, or a fragrant honey. — Greg and Lucy Malouf, authors of Moorish

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds 3 ounces vine leaves
  • 10 1/2 Ounces medium-grain rice
  • 1 Pound 2 ounces minced (ground) lamb
  • 1 Teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 lamb chops from the neck (or chump chops)
  • 1 garlic bulb, cloves separated but not peeled
  • 3 Cups water
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Mint labne (see below)

For the mint labne:

  • 2 pounds 10 ounces plain yoghurt
  • 1/2 Cup mint leaves
  • 1/2 Cup parsley leaves
  • 1 Teaspoon dried mint
  • 1 Teaspoon salt

Directions

If using preserved vine leaves, soak them well, then rinse and pat dry.

Fresh vine leaves should be blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds and refreshed in cold water.

Wash the rice and mix it with the lamb, spices, salt and pepper.

Lay the vine leaves out on a work surface, vein side up, and slice out the stems.

Place a spoonful of the filling across the base of the leaf.

Roll it over once, fold in the sides, and continue to roll it into a neat sausage shape.

The stuffed vine leaves should be around the size of your little finger — don’t roll them too tightly or they will burst during the cooking.

Continue stuffing and rolling until the filling is all used.

Lay the lamb chops on the bottom of a heavy-based casserole dish, then pack the vine leaves in tightly on top, stuffing the garlic cloves in among them.

Pour in the water and lemon juice, and place a plate on top to keep them submerged in the liquid.

Slowly bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for an hour.

The vine leaves can be eaten hot, warm, or even cold.

If serving them hot, carefully take them out of the pot and arrange them in a pile on a serving dish.

Lay the lamb alongside to be eaten with or after the vine leaves.

If you plan to eat the dish cold, cool everything completely in the casserole dish.

The whole thing will solidify into a lump.

When cold, run a knife around the side of the dish, then invert it, a bit like a cake, onto a serving dish and allow everyone to help themselves.

Hot, cold, or warm, serve the vine leaves and chops with plenty of mint labne.

For the mint labne:

Spoon 2 pounds 3 ounces of yoghurt into a clean muslin (cheesecloth) square or tea-towel (dish towel).

Tie the four corners together and suspend the bundle from a wooden spoon over a deep bowl.

Put it in the refrigerator and allow it to drain overnight.

The next day, tip the remaining yoghurt into a blender and put the mint and parsley leaves on top.

Blitz until it’s a nice fine, pale green purée.

Put the labne into a mixing bowl with the dried mint and salt.

Stir together well, then swirl in the green purée for a pretty marbled effect.

Serve as an accompaniment to spicy soups and braises, grilled poultry and meats, and traditional Middle Eastern favourites such as stuffed grape leaves and cabbage rolls.

 

Recipe excerpted with permission from Moorish: Flavours from Mecca to Marrakech by Greg and Lucy Malouf (Hardie Grant Books, 2014)