Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Stuffed Grape Leaves محشي ورق عنب 1

Posted on May 28, 2014 by Sahar

Stuffed Grape Leaves. In Arabic, محشي ورق عنب, or, spelled phonetically, mishi waraq ‘einab.  It was another one of those dishes my sisters & I ate gleefully growing up.  When Mom would make stuffed grape leaves, it was cause for great rejoicing. Especially for Dad.

Many know the Greek word, Dolmas.  Dolma comes from the Turkish word “dolmak” meaning “to be stuffed”.  In Arabic, “mishi” means “stuffed”.  There are literally dozens of variations of stuffed grape leaves all over the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Central Europe, and Central Asia.

Probably the most common way to make the grape leaves is to cook them in an olive oil – lemon juice based-sauce.  However, the way I was taught to make grape leaves was the way my grandmother made them; with a tomato-based sauce.

I was talking to my mom about this one day.  She said the first time she ever ate grape leaves, the sauce was made from sour grapes.  She said it was awful.  The next time she had the dish, my dad had made it the way he preferred and the way his mother made them – with tomatoes.

I like to call it Palestinian-style.


If you would like to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, substitute an equal amount of roasted eggplant for the meat, vegetable broth for the beef broth, and add 1/4 cup tomato paste to the stuffing (this will help the filling bind together).

If you would like to use brown rice in place of the white rice, be sure to add 20 – 30 minutes to the cooking time.


The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The spices clockwise from right:

The spices clockwise from right: Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Allspice, Salt

The grape leaves. be sure to rinse them thoroughly after remaoving them from the brine.

The grape leaves. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly after removing them from the brine; otherwise, the end result will be like a salt lick.


1  jar grape leaves

1 lb. ground lamb or beef

2 c. long-grain white rice

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

2 tsp. allspice, or to taste

3/4 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

Lamb shanks, lamb chops, or beef short ribs, optional

1 large can (22 oz.) whole tomatoes

2 c. beef broth



1.  Take a large saucepan or stockpot and place a rack on the bottom. If you don’t have a rack, use a steamer that sits in the saucepan. (I like to use my pasta pot with the insert.)  This is done not only to keep the grape leaves off the bottom to keep them from burning but to help steam the stuffed leaves as they’re cooking.

If you are using shanks, chops, or ribs, place them on the rack or steamer.  Set aside.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer.  It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it's an extra treat.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer. It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it’s an extra treat.

2.  Carefully take the grape leaves out of the jar (take care not to rip the leaves) and rinse thoroughly.  You want to be sure that the brine is rinsed off. Usually, you will need to separate the leaves when rinsing.  I’ll also fill a large bowl with water and let the leaves soak for a few minutes, then drain.  You want the water to be as clear as possible.

3.  Parboil the rice:  In a large saucepan, place the rice and cover it with 1″ of water.  Over high heat, bring the water to a boil, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir occasionally to be sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir frequently to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Boil the rice until it is about halfway cooked (take some rice out of the water and test it; it should be slightly chewy with a very crunchy center).  Drain the rice in a colander and set aside until it is cool enough to handle.

The finished rice.  Let this sit until it's cool enough to handle.

The finished rice. Let this sit until it’s cool enough to handle.

4.  In a large bowl, mix together the meat and rice (it’s best to use your hands for this).  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It's best done with your hands.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It’s best done with your hands.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it's seasoned right because of the smell.  I've not yet mastered that technique.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it’s seasoned right because of the smell. I’ve not yet mastered that skill.

To taste for seasoning, take a small amount of the mixture and place in a hot skillet to cook (the flavor will be closer to what the finished dish will taste like). Adjust the spices to your taste.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning.  I also consider this cook's treat.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning. I also consider this cook’s treat.

5.  Once you have finished mixing the filling, it’s time to stuff the leaves. Which I will explain in the following photos. (My husband took these photos across from me.  I rotated them so you could see them from my perspective. So, admittedly, they may look a little skewed. Apologies.)

The most important thing to remember is to not wrap the leaves too tight.  You want snug, but not tight.  The rice will continue to expand when the stuffed leaves are cooked.  If you wrap them too tight, they’ll burst.  Conversely, if you wrap them too loosely, they’ll fall apart.  A happy medium is preferred.

Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

1. Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

3.  Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape.  Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

3. Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape. Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

4.  Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

4. Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

5.  Repeat with the other side.

5. Repeat with the other side. The stuffing should be covered.

6.  Now, fold the sides over the filling.

6. Now, fold the sides over the filling.

7.  Repeat with the other side.

7. Repeat with the other side.

8.  Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Done!  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

9. Done! Now, do this another 40 times or so.  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

6.  As you make each roll, place it in the pot.  When you are about halfway through, crush a few of the tomatoes with your hands and lay them on the finished leaves.  Pour on some of the tomato juice. Finish stuffing the remaining leaves.   Crush the remaining tomatoes and place them on top.  Pour over the rest of the tomato juice and the beef broth.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

7.  Cover the pot and bring the liquid to boil over high heat.  Lower the heat to low, keep the pot covered, and cook until the rice and meat are cooked, about 30 – 45 minutes.  You’ll need to take one out to test.

8.  When the grape leaves are cooked, place a serving on a plate, carefully pull out one of the shanks or ribs, and spoon out some of the broth to pour over the leaves on the plate.  You can also have some yogurt and pita bread on the side.




Admittedly, this is a dish that does take some time to put together.  But, the results are well worth it.



Chili… Or, Them’s Fightin’ Words 0

Posted on February 14, 2012 by Sahar

Chili.  A word that can stir up passions usually reserved for first love or politics.

There are as many recipes for chili as there are families in the Southwestern US.  In Texas, we make “Chili Con Carne” – basically a spicy meat stew with chiles, spices, lots of meat, and maybe some tomato.  But no beans.  That would be sacrilege.  In New Mexico and California, you can find green chili, “Chili Verde”, usually made with chicken or pork.  If one would like beans in their chili, you can go vegetarian.

The other well-known of chilis are:

a) “Cincinnati Chili”: made with a variety of Greek and Middle Eastern spices.  It was invented by a Greek Immigrant, Tom (Athanas) Kiradjieff, in 1922.  He originally used the chili at his hot dog stand.  When that didn’t work, he started to use it as a type of spaghetti sauce.  It is now one of Ohio’s most beloved foods.

b) “Springfield Style Chilli”: This Southern Illinois style ground-meat, with beans,  is very different from Texas chili.  The spelling supposedly comes from a disagreement between the owner of the Dew Chilli Parlor, Dew Brockman, and his sign painter.  Another legend has the spelling mimics the first four letters of “Illinois”.

c) “Chasen’s Chili” The owner of Chasens, Dave Chasen, made probably the most famous chili in California.  He kept the recipe a secret, trusting it to no one.  He always made it a week in advance and froze it, feeling that would make a better chili when it was reheated. The original Chasen’s opened in 1936 and closed in 1995.  The second version of Chasen’s closed permanently in 2000.

Like many other dishes that become loved over time, it was a dish made out of desperation and necessity.   There are many legends and stories about where chili originated and it is generally thought, by most historians, that the earliest versions of chili were made by the very poorest people.

“When they have to pay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for a family; this is generally into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat – this is all stewed together.” – C.J. Clopper, remarking on San Antonio Chili, 1926.

According to an old Southwestern American Indian legend and tale.   It is said that the first recipe for chili con carne was put on paper in the 17th century by a beautiful nun, Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain. She was mysteriously known to the Indians of the Southwest United States as “La Dama de Azul,” the lady in blue.  It is said that sister Mary wrote down the recipe for chili which called for venison or antelope meat, onions, tomatoes, and chile peppers.

On March 9, 1731, a group of sixteen families (56 persons) arrived from the Canary Islands at Bexar, the villa of San Fernando de Béxar (now know as the city of San Antonio). They had emigrated to Texas from the Spanish Canary Islands by order of King Philip V. of Spain. The King of Spain felt that colonization would help cement Spanish claims to the region and block France’s westward expansion from Louisiana.  These families founded San Antonio’s first civil government which became the first municipality in the Spanish province of Texas. According to historians, the women made a spicy “Spanish” stew that is similar to chili.

By the 19th Century, some Spanish priests were said to be wary of the passion inspired by chile peppers, assuming they were aphrodisiacs.  A few preached sermons against indulgence in a food which they said was almost as “hot as hell’s brimstone” and “Soup of the Devil.”  The priest’s warning probably contributed to the dish’s popularity.

In 1850, records were found by Everrette DeGolyer (1886-1956), a Dallas millionaire and a lover of chili, indicating that the first chili mix was concocted around 1850 by Texan adventurers and cowboys as a staple for hard times when traveling to and in the California gold fields and around Texas. Needing hot food, the trail cooks came up with a sort of stew. They pounded dried beef, fat, pepper, salt, and the chile peppers together into stackable rectangles which could be easily rehydrated with boiling water. This amounted to “brick chili” or “chili bricks” that could be boiled in pots along the trail. DeGolyer said that chili should be called “chili a la Americano” because the term chili is generic in Mexico and simply means a hot pepper. He believed that chili con carne began as the “pemmican of the Southwest.”

It is said that some trail cooks planted pepper seeds, oregano, and onions in mesquite patches (to protect them from foraging cattle) to use on future trail drives. It is thought that the chile peppers used in the earliest dishes were probably chilipiquín0, which grow wild on bushes in Texas, particularly the southern part of the state.

There was another group of Texans known as “Lavanderas,” or “Washerwoman,” that followed around the 19th-century armies of Texas making a stew of goat meat or venison, wild marjoram and chile peppers.

By 1860, residents of the Texas prisons in the mid to late 1800s also lay claim to the creation of chili. They say that the Texas version of bread and water (or gruel) was a stew of the cheapest available ingredients (tough beef that was hacked fine and chiles and spices that was boiled in water to an edible consistency). The “prisoner’s plight” became a status symbol of the Texas prisons and the inmates used to rate jails on the quality of their chili. The Texas prison system made such good chili that freed inmates often wrote for the recipe, saying what they missed most after leaving was a really good bowl of chili.

In 1893,  Texas chili went national when Texas set up a San Antonio Chili Stand at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

In 1895,  Lyman T. Davis of Corsicana, Texas made chili that he sold from the back of a wagon for five cents a bowl with all the crackers you wanted. He later opened a meat market where he sold his chili in brick form, using the brand name of Lyman’s Famous Home Made Chili. In 1921, he started to can chili in the back of his market and named it after his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill and called it Wolf Brand Chili (a picture of the wolf is still used on the label today).

By the 1880’s, San Antonio was a wide-open cattle, army, and railroad town.  At the center of all the activity were the “Chili Queens” selling their wares on the Plaza, feeding the cowboys, soldiers, and railway workers.  Even the tourists enjoyed the novelty of the Chili Queens.  It was a delicious, slightly exotic, homemade, cheap meal served from colorful carts for a dime.  By 1937, however, the era of the Chili Queens was over when the San Antonio Department of Health decreed that outside food stands had to be held to the same sanitation standards as restaurants.  The Chili Queens disappeared overnight.

(All historical references come from Text by Linda Stradley.)

There are many chili cook-offs all over the country (  The oldest and biggest of these is held in Terlingua, Texas every first weekend of November.  This year will be 46th annual.  It’s a wonderful mix of carnival, party, and really good food.

They type of chili made in cook-offs are quite different from chilis made at home.  In competition, a chili has to make a quick and lasting impression on judges who might be tasting dozens of chilis in a sitting.  They tend to be more highly spiced, hotter, and saltier.  Chili made at home tends to be quite a bit milder.  Depending on the recipe and cook.

The main component in chili, besides meat, is chili powder.  Legend is that two different men, DeWitt Clinton Pendry in Fort Worth and William Gebhardt in San Antonio, invented spice blends to sell to restaurants, and later to consumers.  This was a way to make chiles available year-round by drying and grinding them as opposed to them being available only seasonally.  There are dozens of different types of blended chili powders on the market.  You can also find single-ingredient chile powders, like Ancho or Chipotle.

Also, chili as we know it is not known in Mexico.  The recipe may have originated with the Spanish and been brought to Texas by the Mexican people already living here, but it is a purely American dish.  In effect, one of the original Tex-Mex recipes. In Mexico, chili is defined as “detestable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the US from Texas to New York”.


Now, to the recipe.

This is my own.  It came over many attempts of trial and error. It is a traditional Texas-style chili.  No beans.


Sahar’s Bowl of Red

3 lbs. beef chuck roast , cut into 1″ pieces -or- 3 lbs. beef chili grind

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 med. onions, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 tbsp. tomato paste


2 tbsp. chili powder (My preference is for San Antonio blend. But, use any style you like)

1 tbsp. ancho chile powder

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. Mexican oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. salt (use kosher or sea salt)

2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 tbsp. paprika

2 tbsp. light brown sugar


Beef Broth, as needed

1 15-oz. can tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Tomatoes)


2 tbsp. masa mixed with 2 tbsp. broth or water to make a slurry


The ingredients


The spices: Left, clockwise - chile powder, paprika, oregano, cayenne, ancho powder, cumin; Right, clockwise - brown sugar, pepper, salt


My personal preference, beef chuck cut into 1" pieces.


1.  Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add the meat and cook, stirring frequently, until it is no longer pink.

Browning the meat


Add the onion & garlic and continue cooking until the onions are soft.

Cooking the meat with the onions and garlic


2.  Add the tomato paste and cook until it is well blended with the meat, onions and garlic.

3.  Add the spices and mix in with the meat, onions, and garlic.  Cook until the spices begin to have a scent, about 1 – 2 minutes.

Meat after the spices and tomato paste are added


4.  Mix in the can of tomatoes, with their juice, and just enough beef broth to cover the meat.  Cover and bring to a boil.

After the tomatoes and broth are added


5.  Once the chili comes to a boil, uncover the pot, turn the heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.  Cook until the meat is tender, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

After 30 minutes


After 1 hour


6.  At the end if the cooking time, add the masa slurry to the chili and blend in thoroughly.  Cook for about 5 more minutes to let the chili thicken slightly.  Taste for seasoning.

After about 1-1/2 hours and mixing in the masa.


7.  Serve with cornbread or corn tortillas.  If you want to sprinkle a few onions on top, go ahead.  But, no cheese.  Also, to make this as authentic as possible, DO NOT serve this with beans or rice.  If you do, don’t tell me about it.

The finished recipe. Yummy.

Chili, like most other soups and stews, is always better the next day.  This freezes well, too.







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