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Warak Enab, or Stuffed Grape Leaves, a Traditional Middle Eastern Dish

Warak Enab Grape Leaves

Waraq enab (stuffed grape leaves) is a quintessentially traditional dish commonly eaten, and prepared, in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. It takes time to clean, cut, blanch, and stuff the grape leaves, so warak enab tends to be more of a special occasion meal. The hashweh (stuffing) consists of short grain rice and ground beef (or lamb) that’s been nicely spiced. Having lived in Iraq, I like my warak enab or mahshi (stuffed vegetables) to taste more like the Iraqi dolma which (in addition to the rice and meat) is also chock-full of finely diced tomatoes, parsley, garlic, onion and sweet peppers - making for an even more flavorful dish. Like most dishes, even traditional ones like waraq enab, they get tweaked over time, and my favorite warak enab ‘tweak’ is the additional of pineapple juice to the cooking broth. Pineapple is obviously tropical and has nothing to do with the Middle Eastern kitchen, but it’s amazing in waraq enab. As a natural tenderizer, the pineapple juice helps break down the bigger, older, and less tender grape leaves (especially when the leaves are in brine and not freshly picked in season) and adds a lovely sheen and addictively mild sweet/savory ‘je ne sais quo’ to the hashweh. Now, grape leaves are sold practically throughout the world, but many years ago, and when we were living in Italy, my mother and I would pick it off the streets sometimes and inevitably were met with blank stares and questions from curious passerbys asking what we were doing, “Cosa fate?” Followed by, another more important question? You eat it? “Lo mangiate?!”

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