Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stuffed grape leaves

 To ripen grapes here, I do everything I can to grab whatever heat and sunshine our cool climate allows. I keep the vines cut back to allow in light, create air circulation. I cull the clusters of fruit to a reasonable number, try to keep the vines open and airy. But prune as I will, the vines seem to grow back faster. They keep me busy all summer.

The goats love grape leaves, and so do I. I wrap cheese in them to age, which gives them a pungent flavor and creamy texture. I also line plates with them to serve cheeses, fruit or other delicate foods.

Mostly I make dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves. I use a  modified version of a recipe from
Classic Armenian Recipes, by Alice Antreassian and Mariam Jebejian, a hard to find book I can't recommend enough.
 They attribute the recipe to an unfaithful housewife, who accidentally loitered away more time than she expected, and had to make something fast before her husband got home.

I find this doubtful. This recipe takes me an hour and a half to make, not counting the time gathering the leaves and flavorings. It's "fast" in the sense that the rice cooks in the leaf instead of having to be precooked, but in no other way would any contemporary person consider it quick. It took me from the time David and Noah left for Little League practice till they got back. I couldn't have had an affair if I'd wanted to! (Which I don't).

While there are a number of time consuming recipes in this cookbook, there are plenty of others that our hypothetical wife could have thrown together in less time and still been able to grab a quick shower. I believe the making of dolmas was associated with doing something time consuming and indirectly, with devotion to the family. If a family lacked money, it could at least have the luxury of painstakingly prepared dishes. So any cook who tried to bring some efficiency  to the process was perhaps seen as a bit radical.

On to my modified recipe.

1 Cup white rice
2 tsp salt, divided
4 Tbsp lemon juice, divided
1/4 Cup olive oil, divided
1/4 onion, chopped fine
1/4 onion, cut into slices
1 small tomato, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped, stems reserved
1/2 tsp dill weed
2 Tbsp dried blueberries
1 Tbsp walnuts
1 Tbsp pine nuts
40 tender, fresh grape leaves

Plunge the grape leaves into boiling water, then immediately drain and place in a bowl of ice and water. Once they are cold, remove and pat dry.

Scatter the stems from the parsley, the sliced onion and any leaves from the onion if it was fresh picked, on the bottom of a wide, shallow pan.

These will create a flavorful broth and will nearly vanish during cooking. They also protect the leaves from sticking to the pan.

Mix all the remaining ingredients in a bowl. The proportions of rice, salt and lemon are important, but you can change up the other ingredients as you choose.

Try different herbs, and feel free to leave out the dried berries, or substitute currants (or raisins to stick with the grape theme). I just happen to have some berries I dried last year, and with fresh ones on the way, I was ready to move them out.

I have tried this with different amounts of olive oil and find that it oil does contribute to the flavor, but you could cut it back without any real problem.

The nuts, too, are optional. The onions really add flavor, but you could use scallions or chives.

Place a grape leaf on a flat surface and spread it out to its fullest. Set a spoonful of the mixture in the center.

Fold the two lobes by the stem over the filling, and then fold the opposite corner over to meet them.

Last, fold in the two sides and flip the stem over to cover the packet.

Arrange the wrapped leaves in tight concentric circles in your pan.

Sprinkle on the reserved lemon juice and salt, then pour on water to just barely cover. Bring to a gentle boil. Add the reserved olive oil, and cover the pan tightly. Cook 45 minutes.

Let the leaves cool for 15 minutes. Then cover the pan with a deep sided plate and hold on tightly.

Over the sink, flip the pan/plate combo over. The dolmas will all neatly tumble onto the plate. So will a fair amount of delicious, slightly thickened broth, which will burn your hands if you aren't very careful.

This dish can be served hot, at room temperature (my favorite) or cold. If you are serving it anything but hot, be a smarty and wait for it to cool before you put it on a plate.

Serve it with a salad and fried haloumi cheese - which will be a future blog post.

Post a Comment