Yalanji are grape leaves stuffed with a vegetarian rice filling and cooked in a tangy and flavourful broth until they melt in your mouth! You won't be able to stop eating these and they're so easy to make (although yes, they are time consuming). Gather a few friends and get rolling!
What is Yalanji?
The word "Yalanji" is actually a Turkish word that translates to "liar" to signify that these are "fake" grape leaves. That's because they don't have any meat in them, unlike the traditional grape leaves or "dolma" that are stuffed with ground beef, rice and spices.
But you won't be missing the meat in this recipe! It is *arguably* even better than the meat version. Now Yalanji is commonly known as a Syrian dish, but as we know that in general, stuffed grape leaves or dolma are an ancient dish that's prevalent in Turkey, Greece, the Levant, Iraq, and Iran (and I might be missing a few). All of these countries have their own version. But this specific vegetarian version is pretty close to what you'd get if you walk into a Syrian restaurant and see it on the menu.
In Iraq, our version of "dolma" is this Iraqi Dolma which involves a variety of stuffed vegetables, not just grape leaves. If you're into stuffing vegetables in general, you should also check out my stuffed cabbage recipe.
Now back to the Yalanji: the filling comes together in minutes, but you just need patience to get through the rolling part. It's a great family and friends activity! But if you're going to share I suggest two jars of grape leaves.... I can't stop popping these in my mouth, one after the other. You've been warned.
Ingredients you'll need for this recipe
First and foremost, you need a jar of grape leaves. Or fresh grape leaves, but these are hard to find. For jarred leaves, you'll have to check what brands are available at your local Middle Eastern shop, but I recommend the leaves that come with the stem already trimmed - it saves so much time. Some brands also have bigger and more sturdier leaves than others, so experiment and find one that works. I've used the Cedar as well as Orlando "California style" leaves and loved both!
Then you'll also need tomato, onions, pepper, and parsley, all of which will be blitzed in a processor for the stuffing. You need lemons and pomegranate molasses for the sour flavour, olive oil, salt, pepper and allspice for a bit of seasoning, and of course, some short (or medium) grain rice. Calroze or Egyptian rice will both work well.
How to make Yalanji, Step by Step
- The first step is to open the jar of grape leaves and wash them really well. Most leaves are stored in brine, so the leaves would be very salty if you don't wash them thoroughly. You can then leave them to soak a little bit while you prepare the filling. Sometimes, I'll blanch the leaves if I feel them and find them particularly rough. Blanching will soften and "pre-cook" them so they don't takes ages to cook. I only recommend this step if your leaves are large and feel tough (in which case, find a better brand).
Preparing the filling
- Next, it's time to prepare the filling. It's really easy if you have a food processor. Use it to process the onions, pepper, and parsley until finely chopped. If you don't have a food processor, you can just finely chop by hand. Then finely chop the tomato, and add it with the rest of the vegetables to the washed rice, in a bowl.
- Next, to the same bowl, add the rest of the stuffing ingredients: pomegranate molasses, olive oil, the spices, chicken stock, lemon juice, and tomato paste. Mix everything really well using a spoon until combined. You'll find that the mixture is really juicy - that's totally fine!
- The next step is to get your station ready to roll. I like to start by separating out a bunch of leaves and draping them on the side of my bowl or on a board, which speeds up the process of rolling. You also want to ensure the small stems are trimmed off, if they're not already.
Rolling the grape leaves
- Now there's nothing left to do but roll! Start by laying the grape leaf flat, with the smooth side down. Make sure the veiny side is facing up (so it is hidden when rolled). Place about a tablespoon of the filling in the middle.
- Next, roll the bottom part of the leaf over the filling, then fold in each of the sides. Tuck it in to tighten it then roll forward, tucking in any extra pieces on the sides that may be sticking out, as you roll. Make sure to watch the video to really nail down the technique! But once you get it, its smooth sailing.
- One note on the amount of filling: keep in mind that the rice will expand when it cooks, but the vegetables will actually shrink. Adding too little filling will give you loose rolls after cooking. Generally with the vegetarian filling, I like to be a bit more generous to make sure I don't end up with loose rolls.
- Once you have the grape leaves rolled, its time to prepare your cooking broth. Simply mix together the water, chicken stock, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Using boiling water here helps ensure everything is mixed together well.
Cooking the grape leaves
- To cook the grape leaves, drizzle a bit of olive oil in a non stick pan, then arrange the potato slices so they cover the bottom. Tightly pack in all the grape leaves. Then, place a heat-proof plate on top to weigh everything down, and pour in the cooking liquid. It should just cover the grape leaves.
- Place on the stove and bring to a boil on medium high heat for a few minutes. Once boiling, cover the pot and reduce the heat to a low medium and simmer for 2 hours. Check on it periodically to make sure the water level is fine (if the water evaporates completely, the bottom will burn, so keep an eye and add some if needed).
- Taste it after about 2 hours and it should be soft and melt in your mouth. If not, it needs more time so allow it to cook a bit more.
How to serve Yalanji
Yalanji can be served hot or cold. Most commonly, it is served cold as an appetizer, and to be quite honest, I feel like the flavours are so much better when it has had a chance to cool down in the fridge overnight. But, I love having it hot too, so feel free to serve it how you like.
The traditional way of serving it is to place a large metal tray on top of the pot, position it carefully then quickly flip the pot over so the grape places land on the tray. Place it on the table, dig in and enjoy! You can serve it with a side of yogurt for dipping (although I personally like it plain with some salad on the side).
Other stuffed vegetable recipes you'll enjoy
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Yalanji (Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves)
- 1 Pot
- 1 Food Processor optional
For the Filling
- 2 cups short grain rice
- 1 onion finely diced
- 4 small tomatoes finely diced
- 1 pepper (red or orange) finely diced
- 2 cups parsley finely chopped
- 2 Juice of 2 lemons
- 4 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 chicken stock cube crumbled
For the Grape Leaves
- 1 L grape leaves (equivalent to 1 standard jar)
For the Cooking Stock
- 1 chicken stock cube
- 4 cups hot water (boiling)
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon salt or per preference
- 1 small potato sliced
To make the filling
- Start by washing and draining the short grain rice and set aside in a large bowl
- In a food processor, pulse together the peeled and halved onion, halved pepper, and parsley until finely chopped. If you don't have a processor, chop by hand
- Finely dice the tomatoes by hand
- Add the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and parsley to the rice in the same bowl
- To the same bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper, allspice, tomato paste and chicken stock cube. Combine really well using a spoon. The mixture will have some liquid and that's fine!
To Prepare the Grape Leaves
- Remove the grape leaves from the jar and rinse really well, multiple times, draining the water and re-rinsing. This step is to get rid of any salt water from the brine, and it's really important!
- Optional: If you feel the leaves are really rough (depends on brand quality), you can also blanch them for a few minutes to soften them
- Next, ensure the small stem is removed. Some brands come with it off, but if not, trim it off using a pairing knife
- To make rolling easier, separate the leaves and drape them around your bowl and/or a cutting board
- To roll the leaves, start by placing the leaf smooth side down, and rough/veiny side up on your surface. Add about 1 tablespoon of the mixture in the middle.
- Fold over the bottom of the leaf over the rice, then fold in each of the sides. While maintaining a tight grip, roll the grape leaf forward, tucking in any extras on the side as you roll. Secure by placing it seam side down, and repeat.
Cooking the Grape Leaves
- Prepare the cooking broth by mixing together the water, chicken stock, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Using boiling water helps mix all the ingredients together well.
- In a non-stick pot, drizzle a bit of olive oil then assemble the potato slices so they cover the bottom completely
- Arrange the grape leaves in the pot, making sure to pack them in as tightly as possible
- Place an inverted heat-proof plate on top, to weight the grape leaves down and prevent them from moving
- Pour the cooking mixture all over. It should just about cover the grape leaves. If you don't have enough liquid to cover them, pour more water as required.
- Bring the pot to a boil on medium high heat for a few minutes. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a low medium and allow it to simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Check on it periodically to add more liquid if needed (you don't want all the liquid to evaporate or the bottom will burn.
- After the two hour mark, test one roll for doneness. It should be really tender and melt in your mouth, then its ready to remove.
- You can allow it to cool and place in the fridge to serve cold, or you can serve it hot right way. To serve, place a large tray on top of the pot then flip the pot onto the tray and shake out the grape leaves. Dig in!
- Make sure to use a high quality grape leaves brand, to get soft and tender leaves
- When rolling, make sure to place enough filling inside. Remember that the rice will expand but the vegetables will all shrink, so not adding enough filling runs the risk of having loose and half empty rolls after cooking
- Cook them long enough to become really tender. You may need longer than the specified time in the recipe, depending on the leaves