Found all over Lebanon, warak arish are stuffed vine leaves. The leaves from the grape vine are picked, the stems removed and the leaves boiled to make them more malleable to work with. I use brined leaves that I buy in a Middle Eastern store. You have to give them a really good wash in cold water so that they are not too salty. The vine leaves are rolled up like little cigars around a filling – there are so many different types of filling, but often you’ll find it’s lamb and rice – and cooked low and slow in stock. The warak arish have such a lovely mellow tang and are brilliant on a table filled with other meze dishes. They are quite time consuming to prepare, so make like they do in Lebanon and get some tea, grab a mate to help and have a good gossip whilst you whip up a batch.
Serves 10 as part of a meze
- 1/3 cup Basmati rice
- 6-1/4 ounces ground lamb with 10–15 percent fat
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 45 grape leaves in brine
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 3 cups lamb stock
- Wash the rice in cold water to rinse out any excess starch. Drain well then mix the rice with the lamb, allspice, and a good pinch of salt in a mixing bowl.
- Rinse the grape leaves thoroughly to remove all salty brine and leave to drain in a colander. Place a grape leaf on a cutting board with the stalk end facing you. Put a large teaspoon of the rice mixture on the leaf just above where the stalk would be. Arrange into a line horizontally across the leaf. Fold the sides over the mixture and roll the leaf up from the bottom, keeping it as tight as possible, into a cigar shape. Repeat with the rest. You should be able to make 35–40 warak arish.
- Cover the base of a nonstick saucepan with 4–5 of the remaining grape leaves. Arrange the tomato in a layer and put the warak arish on top. Depending on the size of your pan, you can layer them up. Add the garlic and pour over the lemon juice and stock. The stock should cover everything.
- Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cover the warak arish with an inverted plate to keep them submerged in the stock. Simmer gently for 1-1/2 hours to cook the rice and meat. Take the warak arish out of the liquid and let cool. Serve at room temperature.
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Cover Courtesy of Kyle Books
Reprinted with permission from Saffron in the Souks by John Gregory-Smith and published by Kyle Books.