Do you feel spring comes when the first flowers bloom, when the grass appears greener or when the day becomes longer?
People have different signs when they feel spring has arrived. It may be spring produce, warmer weather or greener scenery, but for me it’s when I can finally make JAPRAK, or stuffed vine leaves. When vine leaves, to be filled with assorted seasonal greens, are in season, it definitely feels like spring to me. That’s when I don’t mind spending hours in the kitchen making the stuffing, then folding leaves and waiting impatiently for them to be done. Kind of therapeutic actually.
These carefully wrapped vine leaves are very traditional for Albania, as well as other countries such as Greece and Turkey.
If you have read any part of this blog by now, it must be obvious that I am not one for traditional or conventional recipes. Even though Japrak are very traditional, I have my own way of making them, and I must say I really prefer them this way now. Actually, if I dare say, I didn’t like eating japrak for many years. While everyone would be fighting over the last piece of japrak, they never really appealed to me and the idea of eating vine leaves just seemed weird. That was until a couple of years ago, when I felt that I haven’t really given them a chance and I must truly see what the big fuss was about. That’s when I converted into a Japrak liking person 🙂 Shortly after, I started stuffing my own vine leaves.
This is the kind of recipe where you have to purchase many of the ingredients before hand, as most likely they are not sitting in your fridge/pantry right now. Like vine leaves for example, which are the crucial part of the recipe ( obviously!). It is actually quite nice to take a stroll to the local market and buy all the ingredients needed for the recipe but also to explore what produce spring has brought. When I went to my local market a few days ago I discovered some amazing garden roses, the crispiest broad beans and some amazing (and huge) organic lemons. I hope I am not the only one who gets excited about market finds 🙂
There are many variations to this amazing bites, some people use mostly rice with just a bit of greens, while I like to put spotlight on the seasonal greens and use the rice to bind the stuffing together. I consider mint a game changer here, it really gives a floral springy taste to the final dish. Going back to unconventional, I also like to add some ginger to the stuffing, which would be a bit too tropical for such a Mediterranean dish.
1/2- 1 kg greens ( including but not limited to: spinach, sorrel, chicory, nettle and any other seasonal green you can find)
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch fennel
2-3 bunches mint ( I think mint makes a huge difference here)
1/2 cup rice ( any type would be ok, I usually use wild rice or black rice and even quinoa works well for me)
4-5 spring onions
1 small red onion
3-4 spring garlic
30-40 vine leaves
1 green pepper
2-3 tablespoons coconut oil
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
a pinch of salt
The whole process start by washing ( and rewashing) all the greens. I like to soak them in some water with a bit of baking soda while I start chopping the onion, garlic and ginger to put them in a hot pan with some olive ( or coconut) oil. After the greens are clean, I chop them into very fine pieces and add them in the pan. Chop the spices ( parsley, fennel and mint) and add to the pan. It works better if the rice is cooked before you add it to the greens.
While the stuffing mixture is cooking for about 15-20 minutes, wash the vine leaves ( with baking soda) and add them to boiling water until they wilt and turn a darker green. That’s how they are supposed to look 🙂
As the stuffing looks like it has come together, now it’s the best part, where you get to stuff those leaves. A couple of things to notice while you wrap the leaves: shiny side always on the back, depending on the size of the leaves put a small amount of stuffing otherwise it will overflow and just ruin the leaf.
Final step: Line a couple of vine leaves in the bottom of the pot you are using, and gently start piling all the stuffed leaves, being careful not to ruin them during transportation. Finally, add the 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer for about 30-40 minutes. They are done when they
Serve: Traditionally served with some yoghurt, but a nice trick that my colleague Entela taught me was to make a simple dressing with just olive oil and lemon and then drizzle it over the finished product. And lastly, I find it much easier to devour these little mouthfuls of flavor with chopsticks, as they don’t get squished or broken.