Stuffed Grape Leaves Casserole

I love stuffed grape leaves.  But it is labor intensive.  Rolling rice mixture up in leaves that sometimes fight you back.  And if the rolls are not made tight enough, they shed their leaves during the cooking process, so you wind up with an unstuffed casserole anyway.  And not in a good way. So I was thrilled to find this unstuffed-on-purpose casserole in Vegetarian Times

Grape leaves shrunk a tad during baking. 

Technically, this is a dish of leaves, stuffing, leaves, stuffing and leaves, not stuffed leaves side-by-side with something poured over (like a blintz casserole I made once upon a time using pre-bought blintzes).  But I changed so little of the original casserole recipe that I thought it necessary to keep the name.

The casserole was a little mushy and a lot tomato-y IMHO.  Tasty, just not what I expected.   I present the recipe here in case a tomato filling is more your style.  The next time, I'll stuff the casserole with stuffing from my favorite stuffed stuffed grape leaves recipe.

Stuffed Grape Leaves Casserole
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Yield: 8 servings

24-30 jarred grape leaves
2 Tbs. olive oil, plus additional oil for casserole dish and grape leaves topping
1 large onion, finely diced (2 cups)
1 cup uncooked white rice
3 cups water, divided
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup chopped unsalted, hulled pistachios
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
juice from one lemon (approx. 2 tablespoons)
8 thinly sliced lemon slices, for garnish

Simmer grape leaves in a 3- or 4-quart pot of boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain, then run cold water over the leaves.  Separate the leaves while still in the colander, then set aside.

Heat oil in 2 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; sauté 7 to 10 minutes, or until onion just starts  to brown. Add rice and stir for 1 minute, then add 2 cups water.  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, and stir in tomato sauce, remaining cup of water, pistachio and pine nuts, parsley, dill, salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Mixture will be very wet.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 2-qt. baking dish with oil. Pat grape leaves dry. Line bottom and sides of baking dish with 8-10 grape leaves, letting leaves overhang the sides (for sealing the casserole later). Spread half of rice mixture over grape leaves. Top rice with 8-10 grape leaves (no overhanging), then top that layer with remaining rice mixture. Top with enough grape leaves to cover rice mixture completely (leaves may shrink a tad during baking).  Seal by folding overhanging grape leaves over topping edges. Brush top with oil.

Cover and bake 30 to 40 minutes.  Uncover and continue to bake another 15-20 minutes, or until grape leaves darken and casserole looks firm and dry.

Use a sharp knife to cut casserole into 8 servings.  Try to lift up serving squares with a spatula, then give up and scoop out onto plates with a serving spoon. Garnish each serving with a lemon slice, if using, before serving.


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