Youthful Yabra’ (Grape Leaves)

Being that we are both Middle Eastern, it’s almost a cardinal sin not to adore Yabra’. Though the process takes nearly a half a day, it is an effort that you will undoubtedly pride yourself on when finished (especially when devoured by family or friends in under ten minutes). For those of you less familiar, yabra’ is the leaf of a grape that is stuffed with meat and rice. It is traditionally eaten with yogurt, pita bread, and the delectable sauce it is cooked in. There are several spins on the traditional recipe, however one that (to our knowledge) has not been tested is a lighter and more nutritious version. Traditionally made with white rice, we opted for a mix of brown and white to increase the amount of fiber, selenium, and manganese per serving. Though they have varying cooking times, the white and brown rice will each cook thoroughly—possibly due to the 3-4 hour cooking time! We also chose to use avocado oil, which not only contains high amounts of vitamin E but also does not need to be super-heated during factory refining like most conventionally used vegetable oils. Being that grape leaves are a dark leafy green, they naturally pack in extra fiber and vitamins A, K, calcium and iron. I tested this recipe out during a dinner party, and none of our guests were able to tell a difference between this and the traditional version. In fact, the brown rice added a subtle nutty flavor that went very nicely with this labor of love. By making these small modifications, we are able to sit down at the end of the day and enjoy absolutely guiltlessly. ☺


Prep time: 1.5 hours
Cook time: 3-4 hours
Total time: 4.5-5.5 hours


1 16 oz. jar Orlando grape leaves
1 lb 10% fat ground beef
2/3 cup short grain brown rice
2/3 cup medium grain white rice (we used Calrose rice)
1 tsp  + ¼ tsp salt
1/2 tsp + 1/8 tsp pepper
1/3 cup avocado oil
½ c. water
8 large pieces of garlic
1 tbsp of butter, cut into 6 small pieces and kept refrigerated
2 large pcs. beef shank

For simmer sauce:
2 large lemons
5 c. water
1 tsp. salt

To serve along with yabra’:
1 pint low-fat plain yogurt
1 package pita bread

Grape Leaf Preparation:

1. Remove grape leaves from jar. Place them in a sifter and separate them into several groups. Rinse through leaves thoroughly.

2. Take a small group (~5-6) of grape leaves and squeeze very well until all water is drained. Within each of these groups, remove the stem that lies within the leaf with a sharp knife.

3. Cut the leaves in half along the line where the stem was in order to create your “canvas” in which you will wrap your meat mixture. Note that one side of the leaf is grainy, while the other is smooth. We will be placing our meat filling on the grainy side.

Filling Preparation:

1. Place the white and brown rice in a sifter. Rinse the rice with warm water.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add rice, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, oil, and water. Mix together gently with a spoon.

3. Add meat to bowl. Since our best tools are our fingers, stick some gloves on and combine these ingredients thoroughly, while taking care to mix them gently. Note the texture of the meat filling. You want it to be able to separate easily, taking note that it is not one big bundle of filling. If you feel as though the mixture is too stiff, start adding 1 tbsp. of water at a time until it begins to separate properly.

Simmer Sauce Preparation:

1. Add 5 c. hot water, 1 tsp salt, 2 large lemons to a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Yabra’ assembly:

1. Put approximately 1 tsp. of filling within each leaf, towards the bottom third of the leaf. Roll the leaf up, while pulling the side of the leaves inwards until you have a roll. Think of rolling a burrito! Note that you may have a few grape leaves left over that will not be filled. Save these as they are an integral part of the cooking process!

2. Prepare the beef shank. Rinse meat well, pat dry, and divide ¼ tsp salt + 1/8 tsp pepper among the two shanks. These are going to be placed on the bottom of the cooking pot.

3. After placing the beef shank in pot, begin arranging the yabra’ in circular layers. Between each layer, place 2 pieces of garlic and 2 small pieces of butter between the grape leaves. Repeat this until all yabra’ has been arranged within the pot.

4. Place approximately 5-6 non-filled grape leaves on top of the yabra’. This will help to keep the yabra’ in place while cooking.

5. Add approximately 3.5 cups of the simmer sauce to pot, or enough to where it covers all of the yabra’.

6. Weigh the yabra’ down with a heavy trivet. If you do not have this, you may weigh it down with a plate, and fill a bowl with water and place on top of the plate to add weight.

7. Turn the yabra’ on high heat until the simmer sauce boils. Once boiling, lower to medium heat and keep covered.

8. Peek on yabra’ every 30 minutes to see whether more simmer sauce needs to be added. If the simmer sauce has evaporated, replace with some of remaining simmer sauce and assure all the yabra’ is covered.

9. After approximately 3 hours, remove trivet or plate and bowl to see if yabra’ has cooked thoroughly. If so, proceed to next step. If not, continue cooking another 30 mins and repeat until done.

10. Remove lid from pot. While holding the trivet or plate, very carefully pour simmer sauce into a medium sized bowl. This is liquid gold people…guard it with your life!

11. Place a large serving dish over the pot. Very carefully, grab the serving dish along with the two handles and flip. You may also arrange the yabra’ and serve as pictured.

12. Serve with simmer sauce, lowfat yogurt, and pita bread on the side—and wala, you have a beautiful, appetizing dish that is chock full of nutrients!

And sahtein–or deux healths!


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