Yes, I was that weird mom who packed stuffed grape leaves in my children’s lunches when I sent them off to school! Those stuffed grape leaves were probably more enticing to their teachers than their peers, but I knew my kids were well fed while away from home. Stuffed grape leaves are as diversely prepared as the multiple Mediterranean cooks who make them. These barley and lamb stuffed grape leaves, served with a labneh dip with toasted pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes, are a somewhat simplified recipe for busy American cooks, without the laborious steps traditionally used to make them. --Robin
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves, plus a few sprigs for garnish
2 lemons, 1 zested and juiced, 1 thinly sliced
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
40 large, tender grape leaves, stemmed and rinsed (see note)
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
1½ cups plain full-fat yogurt
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ½ teaspoon of the salt and sauté briefly, just until fragrant. Add the barley and cook, stirring, until the barley is toasted and just starts to stick. Add the boiling water. Cover the pan, lower the heat, and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Add the ground lamb, oregano, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and cook, breaking apart the meat, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and grated cheese and stir. Add the cooked barley and stir well.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Line a large baking pan with parchment paper. Lay out the grape leaves on a sheet of parchment paper and cover with another sheet of parchment paper. Taking one grape leaf at a time, place about 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center, fold the sides over, and roll it up cigar style. Place the roll in the lined baking pan, brush lightly with a little olive oil, and add a pinch of coarse salt and a little lemon zest (reserve some zest for the dipping sauce).
When all the rolls are finished, loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 10 minutes, just long enough to warm and crisp the leaves.
Meanwhile, put the yogurt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes across the top of the yogurt, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and sprinkle the oregano leaves and remaining lemon zest on top.
Transfer the stuffed grape leaves to a serving platter and garnish with lemon slices and oregano. Serve with the yogurt dipping sauce.
If your grape leaves are small, you will need 80 leaves, to layer 2 leaves per roll.
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