Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's all Greek to me

I'm dedicating this post to my boyfriend, Loukas, for it is because of him that I know anything about Greek food. I'm just a southern girl from the small town of Lakeland, located in Central Florida, and never really ventured out of my small town life until I attended college in Tampa. I grew up on fried chicken, black eye peas, and corn bread, and all though I did give up beef and pork in high school which classified me as crazy with the locals, I didn't even know what a chick pea was until I met him. And Tofu... what's that?... we both said. The journey to Veganism has been quite an adventure for this Southern girl and her Greek boyfriend. These past 3 years have been a fun and life changing experience and I wouldn't turn back for all the money in the world.

One of my first missions was to veganize the recipes that Loukas grew up on, because they are a big part of family life in a Greek household. My goal was to make them taste good enough for the whole family to eat and not just Loukas and I. Little did I know that Loukas' mom already had a plan to make a vegan version of the family favorite... stuffed grape leaves, also known as dolmades to the Greeks and koupepia to the Greeks in Cyprus, aka the Greek Cypriots. I know that the stuffed grape leaves are already vegan at most Greek restaurants, but Loukas' family comes from Cyprus, and the family koupepia recipe he grew up on contains beef and sometimes even other meats.

I asked Loukas' mom to write down the recipe for me... but that didn't work at all. I had to actually make it with her to decipher some kinda of recipe, because asking a Greek lady with broken English to write down a recipe for you is quite the comic relief, it consisted of random words and no measurements... hehe... gotta love her. So in true Greek recipe inspired style, I give to you a recipe that has no real measurements or form, but tastes amazing. I hope you enjoy!

Here is some funny entertainment to illustrate how to make koupepia the traditional way. You can choose to try and follow their directions using Boca crumbles instead of the meat, or follow my recipe, and use all veggies! Either way, it is a funny watch. Loukas was listening to the man and laughing in the other room. Note to self... must learn Greek so I can laugh too. :)

Behold... It's Vegan Koupepia!

Chop up about 1 cup of the following: carrots, zucchini, onions.
And about 2 cups of tomatoes.

And don't forget the parsley!
You need about 1 cup of it as well.

Pour some Olive Oil in a medium to large pot and set to medium high heat. Add the veggies and cook to soften them up. After the veggies are softened up a bit and the tomatoes are nice and juicy (maybe 10 minutes or so), add in about 1 cup of rice, you can use white or brown, or even orzo if you want. Stir and let simmer until the rice is about half way cooked. There is no real science behind this, you just don't want it all the way done because it will cook more later in the process. Squeeze in the juice of 1 or 1 1/2 lemons, add some salt, pepper, and greek seasonings to taste. You can also add some mint if you choose. 

You can usually find grape leaves in jars like the above in the olive section at your local grocery store. Or those of you that live near a Greek or Middle Eastern store, can get even bigger jars that usually have better quality grape leaves inside. You will need 1 of the smaller jars as pictured above. Or if you are trying to feed the whole village of Tochni, like I usually am, then you can adjust the recipe up to 2 cups of everything. Again, it's not a perfect science, don't be afraid to improvise.

Next, you carefully remove the grape leaves from the jar, rinse them, and put them in a small pot with boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain the grape leaves, take the veggie and rice mixture off the stove, and get prepared to start rollin... you might wanna move this operation to your table so you can have a seat, because it takes a while.

This is How I Roll!
a grape leaf of course... ;)
the above video has a good example of grape leaf rolling

• Spread your grape leaves out onto a flat surface.
It's easiest to just do one at a time.
• Spoon on a small amount of the veggie/rice
mixture to the middle of the leaf.
• Fold the bottom part of the leaf up and over the mixture,
tucking in the leaf as needed.
• Fold each side over.
• Then roll up slowly, tucking in the leaf and mixture as you go.
• Keep going until you are out of leaves, or out of your mind.
• Apply for a job at a cigar rolling factory, because you are a pro now!

Next, stack all of your stuffed grape leaves snugly into a pot, fill the pot with water to the level of the grape leaves. Cover the pot with a small plate or something that can sit right on top of the grape leaves, holding them down so they don't float and unroll, it doesn't have to be fancy. Put the lid on top if you can. Turn on medium high heat and cook until the water is absorbed. It works best for me when I cook at medium high for about 30 minutes or so and then turn the heat down to let the water finish absorbing.

After the water has absorbed, put your serving dish upside down on top of the pot of grape leaves and then carefully flip the pot over so that the grape leaves fall neatly onto the serving dish.

Stuffed grape leaves are served!


  1. Enjoyed the post, a lot - great and entertaining writing...and loved the pictures of the dolmades/koupepia in the making. I *is* hungry now, thanks to the great visual ;)

  2. I'm gonna make these soon now that I know how :) I've never seen a grape leaf all laid out before, only rolled up, it's pretty :) Did Loukas grow up in Greece or is he from the states?

  3. Thanks Olya and PJ!

    Loukas was born over here in the States along with his siblings. His parents moved over here in the 70s when Turkey invaded Cyrpus. But he spent allot of time as a baby over there, as well as his summer breaks when he was in school. After he graduated he moved over there for about 6 months and back and forth there after. He would of had to join the army if he stayed longer than 6 months at a time because he is of Cyprian blood. That's the one down side of moving there for him... :/ His parents stayed over there after Loukas graduated, they live in the house that his great grand father built, its over 100 years old, they visit here allot though, and I'm hoping to visit over there soon. The plane tickets are crazy expensive though.

  4. This is great Amber! I haven't had stuffed grape leaves in probably over a decade, I will surely try your recipe. I loved the video too.