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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Cheap Eats: Rice-Stuffed (Edible) Leaves

We all know that rice is a cheap food. The trick is to vary how it's served to both satisfy the palate and bring in additional nutrients. 

I like to use edible leaves as wrappers for a rice and herb mixture. The edible leaves are free to us, as are the herbs and seasonings. My only cost is the rice, salt, pepper, a bit of olive oil, and fuel for the stove. I use homemade chicken bone stock for the cooking liquid. But you could use water or chicken bouillon. In any case, this is a super economical and flavorful way to serve rice. If you have a small amount of cooked meat to use up, stuffed leaves are also a great way to stretch that small amount for more servings.

No grape leaves? Do you throw away the outer, not as crisp leaves from a head of cabbage? They are perfect candidates for stuffing.

Here I'm using some grape leaves that I froze at the end of last summer. I blanched them before freezing, so that step is taken care of for this meal. Other possibilities for leaves include fig leaves, large nasturtium leaves, sorrel, Swiss chard, and cabbage (especially the outer, sometimes wilted cabbage leaves). Squash blossoms from summer or winter squash plants or pumpkins are also candidates for stuffing. The leaves all require blanching before stuffing, so they roll up more easily. But the squash/pumpkin blossoms are flexible enough when fresh-picked. To blanch leaves, I wash, then microwave them briefly (10 seconds for the most tender leaves up to a minute for individual cabbage leaves) to soften.

If you can roll up a burrito, you can roll filled leaves. I first lay out all of the leaves on the kitchen counter. This ensures I have enough filling for each leaf. I then put a spoonful of the seasoned rice onto each leaf.

Beginning at the lower edge of a leaf, I fold up the bottom, fold in the sides, then roll up.

When all leaves are rolled, I place 2 or 3 large leaves on the bottom of a Dutch oven. 

These bottom leaves prevent sticking of the filled leaves.

Next, I place all the rolls onto the liner leaves.

I lay 2 or 3 large leaves on top of the rolls to help hold the rolls together. Some cooks place a small plate on top of these leaves, but I haven't found that to be necessary.

I pour the liquid gently over all, bring to a gentle simmer, cover and simmer on LOW for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes (time will depend on your stove and the pot used). 

After 1 hour, if it looks like the rice isn't fully cooked, I add a couple of tablespoons of water and steam for 10-15 more minutes. This usually does the trick. To see if the rice is thoroughly cooked, I check an opening or tear on one of the leaves and pick out a single grain of rice with the tip of a knife and sample.

Leaving the lid on, I allow the cooked rolls to stand for one hour off the heat. This standing time helps the rolls solidify.

Stuffed leaves can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave. Leftovers are always gobbled up in my house.

Here's the seasoned rice recipe I use for stuffed grape leaves. The seasonings can be changed up according to taste and availability. For example, dried oregano can be subbed for the allspice and dill weed if stuffing cabbage or Swiss chard leaves.  A little cooked ground beef or Italian sausage can be added to this filling, then the cooked rice rolls can be topped with some marinara sauce. Sage (1 teaspoon rubbed or minced fresh) along with some broken up cooked breakfast sausage has nice flavor for squash blossoms.

For about 20 small grape leaves (serves 4):

filling (mix together ion a bowl)
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon minced dill weed
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1/4 cup minced onions, chives, shallots, or about 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon olive oil

cooking liquid
1  1/4 cups chicken stock, water, or bouillon

Extra minced vegetables can be added to the rice filling, up to about 1/4 cup, minced. Up to 1/2 cup of finely chopped cooked meat can also be added.

Do you make stuffed leaves or blossoms? What do you like to use for a filling?


  1. I've never made anything like this before. I enjoy eating stuffed grape leaves at Greek restaurants, which have some sort of meat and rice in the filling. I think it must have vinegar included in the recipe, as well. Looks yummy!

    I'm definitely trying to think up creative ways to stretch our food budget, so I appreciate your ideas. I've probably shared this recipe before--forgive me if I am repeating myself--but it's a good and very simple recipe which uses rice as a base. We had it for dinner last night and I have leftovers. And that's with my son (or He Who Eats A Lot, as we like to call him)! My chicken breast weighed 13 oz. so it's a good recipe for stretching a small amount of meat.

    1. Hi Kris,
      traditionally, stuffed grape leaves have some lemon juice added to the cooking liquid. That would give the taste like vinegar. Stuffed leaves of any type are an interesting alternative for rice preparation, IMO.

      Thank you for the link. Those bowls look tasty and easy. And serving with lots of rice is a budget stretcher. Aren't chicken breasts huge nowadays? I can often stretch one breast to feed all four of us adults. It didn't use to be that way. At most, I used to split a breast between 2 of us, not 4.

      Have a great day, Kris!

    2. Lemon juice makes sense. I grew up on the east side of Michigan and there is a large population of people with Greek heritage there. I loved their restaurants.

      Yes! Chicken breasts are crazy huge! I'm not always quite sure how to divvy them up. If I think one might be on the small side for us, then I tend to use it in a meal with other proteins (like beans, peanut butter, etc.). I suppose I could cut them into weighed-out portions, but truth be told, I tend to do things in a hurry and opt for the easiest solution.

  2. I hàve never tried the stuffed grape leaves but they sound so delicious. I will certainly have to give those a try. I have, however, done stuffed cabbage leaves...but always topped with tomato based type pasta sauce. I think I need to try them with the broth....sounds good and different. Plus, I like the seasoning blend you added to the rice stuffing. On my must try agenda now. I think with food prices escalating, it is helpful to find different and tasty ways to keep our meals interesting and sometimes new. Kris, I will be looking up the taco bowl recipe...that sure sounds like something we would enjoy also.

    1. It's SO easy and tasty. You could also serve it on tortillas.

      I was thinking that I need to look again at Lili's post from awhile ago where we all shared different budget-friendly meals. Several sounded good to me and as you say, Linda, I'm on the lookout for tasty budget meals.

    2. Hi Linda,
      I love stuffed cabbage smothered in marinara. So delicious. This is one of my favorite uses for those limp outer cabbage leaves. The broth in the above recipe is for cooking the rice inside the grape leaves. There is no broth leftover at the end of cooking. I really like the dill, garlic, onion, and allspice in the grape leaves. If you don't have grape leaves, this combo is also good inside Swiss chard leaves.
      Have a great day, Linda!


  3. I have occasionally stuffed cabbage, but that's all. I never thought about stuffing squash blossoms. I know you can eat them, but they seem too small and delicate for stuffing. I guess not. I'll have to keep that in mind this summer.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      The squash blossoms do tear lengthwise, but I see this as a feature. I will often tear the blossom open to lay it flat, then roll up the filling, making a kind of cigar (no closed ends). Squash blossoms are also delicious sautéed in butter, in a summer hodgepodge vegetable medley (green beans, summer squash, tomatoes, etc). I hope your garden is coming along nicely.
      Have a great rest of your day, Live and Learn.

  4. I have made stuffed grape leaves before (with a homemade rice and chickpea stuffing), but using commercially jarred, store-bought grape leaves. This would be so much better and cheaper...!

    1. Yum, a chickpea and rice stuffing sounds delicious! Our yard isn't sunny enough to produce actual grapes on the vines, so I make up for that by using the leaves as often as I can. Indeed, much cheaper than commercial grape leaves!
      Enjoy the rest of your day!


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