The seven-day Jewish holiday of Sukkot begins this evening when the sun goes down. While not as widely known or celebrated as some other Jewish holidays, Sukkot is a very important part of the Jewish experience. Historically many important events have occurred during Sukkot, including King Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple of Jerusalem. To learn more about the Sukkot holiday and its connection to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, click here.
Sukkot is a harvest holiday, which means that the foods served are seasonal in nature. The Sukkot menu generally features vegetables and fruits that are harvested at the turn of the season. As a food lover, this holiday is one of my favorites because we are encouraged to create dishes from fresh seasonal ingredients. The arrival of Sukkot ushers in the autumn season; Sukkot foods are inspired by the bounty of the harvest and the Seven Species in the Torah. That means lots of apples, squash, eggplants, figs, grapes, and– you guessed it– grape leaves!
Stuffing grape leaves used to intimidate to me. It seemed like such a complicated, foreign process. I sought advice from a friend of ours named Tony; he owns a Greek restaurant, which means he’s an authority on the subject. Tony makes the best meat-stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever tasted (fingers crossed he’ll share the recipe with us soon!). He told me that it’s a lot easier than it seems– all you really need is a little time and patience. I decided to take his advice and try making vegetarian grape leaves first. And you know what? He’s right! There was a learning curve, but once I understood the process, it became second nature. The first time I made them, I used a simple herbed rice as a filling. Over time I tweaked it, adding more herbs, onion, and lemon for flavor and pine nuts for texture/protein. The result? Awesome! Not to mention vegan, pareve, gluten free, uber healthy– you get the idea.
To make this easier, I’ve laid out a very clearly photographed step-by-step tutorial. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a pesticide-free grape vine in the back yard (I don’t, but wouldn’t that be lovely??), you’ll need to buy 1 or 2 large jars of grape leaves. You can find these at Middle Eastern markets or specialty stores. They can also be found online. I usually end up using a little more than 1 large jar– while there are more than 50 leaves in a jar, many of the leaves in the jar end up being damaged and unsuited to stuffing. I use the damaged leaves to line the bottom of the pot where the grape leaves are cooked.
Stuffed foods, like my Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves, are symbolic for Sukkot– they signify a bountiful harvest. Garnish them with fresh mint leaves, lemon slices and olives for a lovely presentation.
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- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 1 ½ cups long grain white rice
- 1 medium onion, minced
- 1/2 cup fresh minced dill
- 1/4 cup fresh minced mint
- 6 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 3/4 cups vegetable broth (a yellow broth is best), divided
- 50 large grape leaves (fresh or jarred)
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh mint leaves, lemon slices, and olives (for garnish - optional)
You will also need
- a medium pot, a sauté pan with high sides, a large pot, a plate
- Pour the pine nuts into a skillet and lightly toast them over medium heat till golden brown. Reserve.
- Pour ¼ cup of olive oil into a medium pot and heat it over medium. Add minced onion to the pot and sauté until soft. Add the rice to the pot and stir to combine. Sauté for another minute. Pour in ¾ cup vegetable broth and lower the heat; simmer the rice uncovered for about 10 minutes till the liquid is absorbed and the rice is half cooked. Do not cook the rice fully, or you’ll end up with mushy grape leaves! Just cook it to an al dente texture. Remove pot from heat.
- Add the minced dill, mint, toasted pine nuts, 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice and lemon zest to the pot of rice. Stir till all ingredients are well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
- Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. As the water is heating, trim the leaves by cutting the stems off, flush with the leaves. Trim any large, hard veins from the leaves. Place the leaves in the boiling water and let them soften for 3-5 minutes till they become pliable (fresh leaves may take a bit longer to soften than jarred).
- Drain, then cover the leaves with cold water. Drain the leaves again and pat them dry.
- Note: If using fresh leaves, try to use younger leaves (medium size)—they’ll be more tender than the very large leaves.
- Place a grape leaf shiny (smooth) side down, vein (bumpy) side up, on a flat surface like a cutting board.
- Place 2 tbsp of rice filling at the base end of the leaf, near where the stem was.
- Fold the stem end up over the filling.
- Fold the edges of the leaf inward.
- Continue rolling the leaf till it forms a neat rolled package. Do not roll too tightly; the rice will expand a little during cooking, and if you roll it too tight the leaf will unravel as it cooks.
- Squeeze the roll gently to seal.
- Repeat the process with the remaining leaves till all of the filling is gone.
- As you roll the leaves, you may find some leaves that are damaged or have large holes. Place those damaged leaves into the bottom of your saute pan to line it and create a bed for the stuffed leaves.
- Place the stuffed leaves in the bottom of the saute pan. Don’t be afraid to pack the leaves snugly; this will help keep the leaves intact as they cook. Make a single layer on the bottom of the pan. When you run out of room, make a second layer on top.
- Pour 1 cup of broth, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, and ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice over the stuffed grape leaves. Heat the pan over medium until it begins to simmer (don’t boil, or the leaves will start to fall apart).
- Turn heat to low, so the leaves are slowly simmering, and place an inverted heat-safe plate on top of the stuffed grape leaves to weigh them down and keep them secure as they cook.
- Cover the pot. Let the grape leaves cook for 30-40 minutes. The leaves are finished cooking when they are fork-tender.
- Stuffed grape leaves can be served warm or cold, as-is or topped with a variety of sauces. I like serving them with fresh tzatziki or tahini sauce—recipes for both can be found on my blog. Store them in the refrigerator; they will keep for about 1 week.