There are many Palestinian dishes that involve stuffing things, be it vegetables, leaves or even chicken. Waraq dawali, which means rolled leaves in Arabic, is the name for the famous Middle Eastern dish of stuffed vine leaves. Waraq dawali is one of the most popular dishes in Palestine and is loved by many.
Waraq dawali is one of the dishes that truly symbolises the care, patience and love Palestinians put into their food.
Stuffed vine leaves can be found in many parts of the world, especially in Mediterranean countries. Every country or region will have its own recipe for it. The Greek one will be different from the Palestinian one, and in Palestine, recipes will vary from one place to another. This recipe, from Salam in Bethlehem, is the vegetarian version. Dawalis can also be stuffed with meat but this is how Salam prefers it, and so do I. She packs her leaves with rice, herbs, tomatoes, onion, garlic and olive oil. It’s fresh, healthy and full of flavour. While the stuffing is important, the quality of the grape leaves is even more crucial. Picked at the right time (early summer) from the right vines, Palestinian leaves have a soft earthy and lemony taste and a delicate texture. People also tend to dry and store the leaves so they can make dawalis throughout the year.
Waraq dawali is one of the dishes that truly symbolises the care, patience and love Palestinians put into their food, as well as the social customs of Palestine. With Salam, we spent a whole morning preparing the leaves and other women joined in. This is common practice in Palestine and Salam talked a great deal about Palestinian social customs in relation to food. A Jordan-born Palestinian, Salam lives in Bethlehem, where she moved from Jordan to get married. The family also spent a few years in the UK so Salam could complete her PhD in nursing & mental health. Now she teaches in one of the best universities in the Occupied West Bank. So with a busy job and three children, she doesn’t always have time to prepare dishes such as dawali and has to ask other women around her for help: “With waraq dawali, usually I prepare the rice mixture, send it to friends and they will make it for me. During that time, I will clean the house, I prepare my lectures. Palestinian food takes a long time to prepare but we like our food, we could not change it.”
In Palestinian society, it is common for women - family members, friends, neighbours - to help each other out with food preparations, in particular for dishes that take a long time to make such as waraq dawali or maftoul (Palestinian couscous). This practice was, and still is, part of the social structures of Palestinian society, in particular in rural areas where life evolved around the village and farming. Women socialise, tell stories and share cooking tips while rolling leaves, stuffing vegetables, preparing noodles. This is also how recipes are passed down from one generation to another and how strong bonds are maintained. Palestinian society is deeply patriarchal and women are usually the ones who look after household duties, such as raising the children, cooking and cleaning, even though many women today are in full-time work. So this tradition is particularly linked to women. Salam explained: “This is like a social gathering for women. Women usually ask each other, the neighbours, the friends, to come and help. Like when you do sambosek, because it takes a lot of time, women ask for help from each other. This is what happens in many villages and cities. Sometimes in cities it’s a little bit different. In villages, especially if a woman isn't working, she will have better relations, special relations, more than me for example. They will visit each other, they have plenty of time to socialise. So usually if they ask others for help, they come.”
It may seem daunting to make this recipe but the time it takes to prepare the stuffed vine leaves is well worth the effort. I’d also recommend you prepare this dish following the same social customs as those in Palestine: get friends or family together to prepare the rice, stuff the leaves, cook them and finally eat the meal together. There is something very nice about preparing food in groups and this is a perfect dish to do just that.
|WARAQ DAWALI||vegetarian stuffed vine leaves|
|Preparation||if you get people together, about 90 minutes - if you are alone, about 180 minutes|
Serve them on a large dish for everyone to tuck in, alongside yogurt and some salad. It's also delicious to squeeze some lemon juice over them. Vine leaves are very nice the next day, served cold or warm.
How to roll the leaves, one step at a time from left to right:
Ikteer zaki! (very delicious)