Have you eaten stuffed grape leaves? Common in Greek and Middle-Eastern cooking, they’re leaves stuffed with a rice/meat mixture, often served cool or at room temperature. This is a version using fresh chard.
This is not a quick recipe, but it’s a great one to make ahead of time. Don’t let the long list of ingredients deter you from making this. If you break it down into steps, it’s not challenging at all: prepare the leaves, cook onions and rice, mix the filling, fill and roll the leaves, season the pot with a cooking sauce, add liquid and cook, make a simple yogurt sauce, and eat! That’s not so bad, right?
It is a great dish to make with a group: you can break up the preparation among several people, then sit around a table and roll the filling into the chard leaves. It’s also a good project for a relaxed weekend afternoon. You can make a double or even triple batch of these, and then refrigerate for 5-6 days. They’re good to eat hot, warm, or room temperature; they would be a fabulous take-along dish for a party or potluck, and they are delicious. Do try them!
Stuffed Chard Leaves
- ½ lb ground beef
- ½ lb ground lamb
- 1 medium onion, cut in small dice
- 4 tbsp chopped parsley (¼ cup)
- ⅓ cup rice (a starchy one is better)
- olive oil
- 14-18 large chard leaves
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 4 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves (¼ cup)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Heat a small pot and add some butter or oil. Cook the onions over medium heat, until they begin to turn golden. Stir occasionally, don’t let them burn! Add the rice, stir well, and then add 1 cup water to the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and then lower heat, and cook about 10 minutes, until the water is fully absorbed and the rice is almost but not quite cooked. Turn it out into a large bowl to cool a bit.
- Boil water in a large wide pot. While it’s coming up to temperature, wash the chard leaves very well. Have a large bowl of ice-water ready. Once the water boils, soften the chard leaves. Working with about 5 leaves at a time, dip them in the boiling water, leaf-tip first. Let them stand about a minute, until they soften, then remove them and immediately put in the ice water. Repeat with the rest of the chard until it’s all in the cold water. I like to have my leaves ready to use on a towel-lined tray: one by one, carefully lift a chard leaf from the water. Lay it flat on a tray. Be gentle! The leaves are fragile now.
- When the rice and onions are cool enough to stick your fingers into, crumble in the uncooked ground meat. Add chopped parsley, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin or your other chosen seasonings, and mix well. Use a light hand, so that the meat and rice mixture stays as fluffy as possible.
- Have a wide dutch oven or deep skillet ready to put the chard rolls into. First, cut stalks from the leaves and put them crosswise along the bottom of your pot – this will keep the rolls from sticking to the bottom! You’ll cut each stalk about half-way up the leaf, leaving you with a leaf-tip attached to 2 ‘wings’ where the stalk was cut. That’s okay. If the leaves are very large, you might get 3 pieces to roll: that tip, and each wing by itself. You’ll need a piece about 4 x 4 inches to have one big enough to roll (for the littlest ones) or you can do what I did, and use whole leaves, and make larger rolls.
- For small ones: take a 4×4 piece of leaf. Put about 1 tsp of filling on the lower middle, fold in the sides, then fold up the bottom, and roll upward until it is a compact packet. Arrange the rolls on top of the stalks in the bottom of the large wide pot, seam side down. Fill the pot from the sides toward the center. You can stack the layers, up to 4 or 5 high, as long as you have room in the pot.
- For larger ones: take a leaf, tip facing away from you. Put about 2 Tbsp of filling on the leaf just where the hole from the stalk begins. Fold in the sides, and roll to make a neat bundle. Arrange the rolls on top of the stalks in the bottom of the wide pot, seam side down. Fill the pot from the sides toward the center. I used a 12″ wide Dutch oven, and I had one single layer.
- If you end up with more filling than you have leaves, simply saute the filling in a little skillet, and either eat it as your cook’s treat, or save it to fill pita bread – with chopped tomato and cucumber, this makes a fantastic sandwich.
- Now that the rolls are neatly in the pot, you want to make your pot seasoning. Drizzle the rolls with a little olive oil, or dot them with about 1 Tbsp butter, in small pieces. Mix a dab of tomato paste (I used 2 of the thick tomato paste cubes I like to freeze) with 2 cups water, and pour this over the leaves. Chop 2 cloves of garlic very finely, and mix them with the juice of 1 lemon and some chopped mint. Mix the chopped garlic and herbs with the tomato sauce and pour it all over the top of the leaves. Put a heat-proof plate on top of the leaves within the pot, to make sure that they stay flat and do not float or move around.
- Over medium-high heat, bring the water in the pot to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 35-40 minutes.
- When the stuffed leaves are fully cooked (you might want to test one by unrolling or slicing it) the rice will be tender and the meat will be completely cooked through. Stuffed chard leaves are good hot, warm, at room temperature, or as leftovers snuck from the refrigerator one by one.