Found: Top-notch stuffed grape leaves

Hanna Raskin

“You’re going to be full,” the counterman at Jerusalem Mart & Deli said nervously as he spooned hummus into the upper quadrant of a Styrofoam container holding my stuffed grape leaves.

He had no idea. I was at the start of an overdue trip to an array of modest North Charleston restaurants, and had chicken barbecue, cabeza tacos and beef tongue skewers ahead of me. In retrospect, though, I wish I had polished off the grape leaves, easily the highlight of my sampling tour.

Lots of respectable restaurants cheat their way to a grape leaf platter, fishing the Mediterranean parcels out of a can. Jerusalem Mart & Deli sells that kind of grape leaves too: Its well-stocked shelves include halvah, ful, teas, jarred spices, and most everything else a home cook would need to create a recognizably Middle Eastern meal. But in the café portion of the strip mall shop, the grape leaves are freshly made – and bear little resemblance to the slimy, uniformly-shaped stuffed grape leaves that come from a factory.

Owner Abdul Abukhdair’s brother told me that he scales back the stuffing when making grape leaves at home: He prefers them about as thick as his finger. As served at Jerusalem Mart & Deli, the grape leaves, tightly bound as a papoose, are closer in size to a push-up pop.

The stuffing is simple: Tender fat grains of rice, soused with lemon juice and ruffled with mint. Bits of lamb show up in the mix, so the grape leaves aren’t appropriate for vegetarians. For everyone else though, they’re worth seeking out.

Indeed, some serious seeking might be involved, since the grape leaves aren’t a regular item. The standard menu features falafel, kofta, gyros, kibbeh, hummus and parsley salad. To learn what’s on the specials board, call 529-0054.

Jerusalem Mart & Deli is located at 4952 Centre Point Drive, near Tanger Outlets.