Joanna Gaines’ Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe Is a Nod to Her Lebanese Heritage

Joanna Gaines‘ ethnic background has been a point of speculation since the lifestyle host rose to prominence with Fixer Upper.

Gaines, born and raised in Kansas, sounded amused by her fans’ thoughts on the topic, as she stated on her blog. “I love hearing all the guesses,” she said. “Although I did play Pocahontas in high school, I am not Native American. My father is half Lebanese/half German and my mother is full Korean.”

One of Gaines’ favorite recipes is from the Lebanese side of the family: Stuffed Grape Leaves. Here’s the Magnolia Table star’s take on the Mediterranean treat.

Joanna Gaines at the Build event for Chip Gaines' book Capital Gains
Joanna Gaines | Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage via Getty Images

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Gaines’ mom makes many family favorites

Since she grew up in Kansas and Texas, the mother of five enjoyed “American” food but also enjoyed her grandmother’s Korean cooking.

“My mom grew up in Seoul, South Korea, with a mom who was an amazing cook,” Gaines wrote in her cookbook, Magnolia Table. “I can personally vouch for this because in the 1980s my grandmother and uncle moved in with us in our home in Wichita, Kansas, where I grew up.”

While her mother’s cooking veered towards American-style recipes, once Gaines’ children were born, she was making Korean dishes that became beloved in her daughter’s household. Gaines mused that her children are “growing up eating much more authentic Korean food than I ever did.”

Joanna Gaines’ stuffed grape leaves

On her father’s Lebanese side of the family, one of the recipes that emerged as a favorite of Gaines’ is her Grandpa Stevens’ Stuffed Grape Leaves. She wrote in Volume Two of Magnolia Table that her grandfather “on my dad’s side would make [stuffed grape leaves] as a Sunday lunch for our entire family. It was always a big production for him, which made the meal feel like a really big deal.”

Her grandfather has since passed away, but he taught Gaines’ mother how to make the delicious, cigar-shaped grape-leaf rolls.

“My Korean mama has carried on this tradition from my father’s heritage as if it were her own, and I just know it would make my grandpa really proud,” she wrote.

How to make Grandpa Stevens’ Stuffed Grape Leaves

The ingredients list for this dish (found in Magnolia Table, Volume Two) isn’t lengthy, but the process can be. But as you’ll learn, it’s worth the effort.

You’ll need ground beef, white rice, onion, seasoned salt, Himalayan pink salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder, tomato juice, and a jar of grape leaves. Set aside a third-cup of the tomato juice.

Except for the grape leaves, the ingredients are combined. Set aside. Place a a half-dozen whole grape leaves at the bottom of the pot or medium saucepan you’ll be using.

To make each stuffed grape leaf: place one grape leaf, vein side up, on a plate or surface with, Gaines suggests, “the wide end towards you.” Place two tablespoons of the mixture onto the wide part of the leaf. Now you begin to fold and roll. Fold the sides of the leaf onto the mixture and roll as you go. The stuffed leaf should be firm, but not too tightly bound. Put it in the pot you will be cooking the stuffed leaves in. Repeat with all the other leaves, saving two.

Once you have all your stuffed leaves in the pot, Gaines calls for mixing together a few cups of water, the reserved third of a cup tomato juice, and salt and pepper. Pour the liquid over the stacked grape leaf rolls.

Blanket the rolls with the two saved grape leaves, cover the pot, and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and after almost an hour, check to see if the rice is cooked (taste a roll!).

Enjoy these stuffed grape leaves “with a side of either tabbouleh or a Lebanese salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and pita bread.”