One of the best things about living in Philly is the diversity of cuisines available. Or at least all the ones I want. But, since we moved to a new neighborhood a few years ago, there are a few mainstays I don’t get to enjoy quite as often as I used to, mainly Vietnamese, one of my favorites. I like it all. Broken rice, spring rolls (gỏi cuốn), pho, bánh mì, the iced coffee, the balance of flavors, I could go on…
While I can get a seriously good bánh mì around the corner from our new place, shoutout to Brown Street Coffee & Bánhery, one of my fave dishes that isn’t so easily accessible is bò nướng lá or stuffed grape leaves. One of the best places to get these if you’re in Philly is for sure Vietnam. Everything I’ve had there is so, so good. (Jess, if you’re reading this, you get all the credit for introducing me to that place!)
While the new neighborhood can satisfy my bánh mì cravings, I haven’t had such good luck finding a place that has stuffed grape leaves, so I had to take matters into my own hands.
I believe the classic version of this dish is made with betel leaves, but made with grape leaves whenever I’ve had them, since they are easier to find around here. But since I didn’t even have grape leaves, I figured I might as well use what I had, so Swiss chard it was. It’s usually always available at the Whole Foods near me, has a mild flavor and is just sturdy enough to act as a wrapper for the ground beef and pork filling. But if you can get grape leaves, or even better betel leave, use those.
I like it all. Broken rice, spring rolls, pho, bánh mì, the iced coffee, I could go on…
When I eat out this will typically be an appetizer, but at home we like to have this with a good bit of sticky rice on the side along with cucumber, peanut, pickled carrots, cilantro and even some mint and lettuce for wrapping, if I feel so inspired. All depends on my mood. But, I would say a total requirement to go along with this recipe is the chili fish dipping sauce. And, like just about everything, I recommend making extra of this cause it’s delish.
The recipe is a mix and wrap situation. It looks fairly fussy when its all plated up, but really only takes 10-15 minutes to assemble everything. So, pour a glass of wine, or open a beer, and relax and enjoy the process. It’ll be worth it.
Stuffed Swiss Chard Leaves
a take on stuffed grape leaves
- 5-8 chard leaves
For the filling
- 1lb ground meat – either all beef or a mixture of beef and pork, whatever you like
- 1 large shallot – finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic – crushed
- 1-inch nub of ginger – finely chopped
- 1/2 habanero or chili pepper – finely chopped
- Pinch of sugar
- 2 tsp fish sauce or pinch of salt
- 1 tsp five spice powder
For the sauce
- 1c water
- 2-3 tsp brown sugar
- 1 sml clove garlic crushed
- 1 tsp finely diced carrot
- 1/2 habanero or chili pepper – finely diced
- juice of 2 limes
- 2 tblspn fish sauce
To start, I typically like to make the fish sauce first so it has some time to sit while I make everything else. Just mix all the ingredients together and stir till it’s all combined, and the sugar is dissolved. Make sure to taste it and adjust. Some fish sauces are more pungent or saltier than other so you may need to adjust accordingly.
Next up is the filling. Combine all the filling ingredients into a bowl and mix until just combined. If possible, try not to overwork the mixture, it’ll get tough.
Then you’ll need to prep your chard leaves. I like to de-stem them, so you’re left with two halves. And then, depending on how large your leaves are, spilt them in half again.
Take a heaping teaspoon of filling and place it on the inside of the leaf and roll it up like a little burrito. Once you are all done assembling your little rolls, you need to fry them in a pan with a good bit of oil. You don’t want them sticking. I used coconut oil, cause that’s what I had, but use any neutral flavored oil you want, I don’t recommend using olive oil here. I fried them for about 5-7 mins until the filling was completely cooked through and the leaves were browned and just slightly crispy. I would also suggest grilling, rather than frying these if you’re able to. The charred flavor would be extra delicious.
Then eat up! I topped mine with some chopped toasted peanuts and cilantro and dipped them in the fish sauce. So good.