Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
Historical Note: Stuffed grape leaves are a part of many cultures including the Syrians, the Turks, the Greeks, the Lebanese, the Albanians, the Israeli’s, the Iranians, the Iraqis and the Armenians (just to name a few). Generally speaking the stuffed part could be in zucchinis/courgette, eggplant, tomato or peppers. Really it also extends to stuffing certain types of fish as well. It is suggested that the origin of stuffed grape leaves goes back to the time when Alexander the Great besieged Thebes. It has also been suggested the Byzantines refined and spiced up the recipe and used the leaves of other vines such as hazelnuts and figs.
Mandatory Items: The challenge this month is to make a filling and roll it in grape leaves. If grape leaves are unavailable to you then you can use Swiss chard, kale, cabbage or some tough green.
Variations allowed: Grape leaves can usually be found in jars at Mediterranean stores or grocery stores that have ethnic foods. Do stick with a tougher green if you cannot find grape leaves. Spinach, a delicate green, will not hold up to the boiling process. I highly encourage you to use grape leaves if you can.
The filling is totally up to you. You can do any meat filled filling or meatless, but it must include rice. You can add different nuts or dried fruits to your filling.
It was as though Lori knew what was in my kitchen cupboards – an unused, year old jar of grape leaves. Think of it as playing catch-up…all these things I have just waiting to be made.
I wasn’t going to get adventurous with this challenge, having tasted stuffed vine leaves from a vendor at the marché in Paris a few weeks ago and decided that though nice, they weren’t going to make it to my hit list. What I was intent on trying however was the method of cooking them on a bed of meaty ribs, a tip shared by my kindergartner’s Greek teacher as we rode the grey boss to the apple orchard a few weeks ago. Apparently, her mum always cooked stuffed cabbage and vine leaves that way, when they ready the ribs were enjoyed with crumbled feta cheese over the top and some bread for dipping.
On a quest for authenticity, I treaded the same route – with delicious results. Husband loved the stuffed leaves and the ribs, daughter #1 loved the ribs and the other kids stayed well clear. Can’t have it all, can we? I enjoyed the ribs and as expected was a bit lukewarm on the leaves too. What I loved the most was that the stuffed parcels (which reminded me a lot of sushi) and meaty bones formed a superb addition to our dinner tapas on Sunday night along with garlic shrimps, a Spanish style salad complete with sherry vinegar and olive oil sin tinned tunafish, purple patata bravas (I only had purple potatoes at home) padron peppers with chorizo, Albóndigas de terna (beef & sausage meatballs), spaghetti for the fussy eaters, homemade Mojo Picón, a spicy red hot paste for spice lovers and no crusty bread (due to husband-forgot-to-buy syndrome).
Tapas to remember sunny Barcelona in the torrential welcoming rain and frostbite of beloved Holland, where horizontal rain and fist-large raindrops beat down hard on us, a welcoming cacophany.
Rice-stuffed Grape Leaves Stuffed with Marcona almonds, currants and herbs
Out of my head; makes 20 wraps
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced Pinch of salt 1 kg beef or lamb ribs (about 12 pieces) 2 teaspoons mixed herbs (I used a Greek mix which has oregano, parsley, mint and thyme) 1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette (or a mix of sweet paprika and chilli powder)
1-2 cups water
1 cup short grain rice (I used paella ‘La Bomba’ rice) 1/3 cup dried currants 15 natural/raw almonds, roughly chopped 12 leaves lemon verbena, chopped 12 leaves lemon melisse, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced Pinch of salt 2 tablespoons olive oil Squirt of freshly squeezed lemon juice 20 – 40 grape leaves
An hour before:
Cover the rice in water for 30 minutes to an hour.
If using grape leaves preserved in brine, to remove salt put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Make sure that the water penetrates well between the layers, and leave them soaking for about twenty minutes, then change the water a time or two using fresh cold water.
Start cooking the ribs:
In a large dutch oven/pan/ceramic cooker, heat the oil for the ribs. Add the chopped onion and garlic cloves with a pinch of salt. Let cook for 2-3 minutes and then add the ribs. Let underside brown slowly and then sprinkle the mixed herbs over the top. Turn over and let the other bits brown a bit. I didn”t let mine caramelise……but go ahead and do what suits you and how much time you have.
Then add the piment d’espelette, followed by the water. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, checking for seasoning. Remove from heat and set aside briefly while you prepare the rice and roll up the leaves.
Drain the soaked rice and combine with the currants, almonds, herbs, garlic, salt and the olive oil and lemon juice. Stir well to combine.
Drain the grape leaves from their cold water soak and then get ready to roll.
Place a grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up. You can trim the little stem if you would like.I found out that some of my leaves were torn and so I doubled them, using 2 leaves per roll.
Place about two teaspoons (10 ml) of the filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge. Roll the leaf end to end, starting from the stem edge. As you roll, fold the sides of the leaf in toward the center. The leaf should resemble a small cigar, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches (50 mm to 65mm) long.
As you make the rolls, place them over the ribs, till the ribs are all covered with rice parcels. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
You can freeze some of the stuffed grape leaves at this point, if you don’t fancy cooking them immediately. Just line a baking sheet with wax paper and place the rolls in a single layer, seam side down. Freeze till hard and transfer to an airtight plastic bag which should go back in the freezer.
Weigh down the grape leaves with a heat proof plate or board to prevent them from unraveling. Place the saucepan in an oven preheated to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 and cook for an hour or until the rice in the leaves is soft or to your taste. Alternatively, cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes.
Spoon cooking liquid over the grape leaves occasionally. You will know they are done, when the grape leaves are neither soupy nor dry. ( I omitted this tip and ended up with half dried leaves on top…….).
I was late with this month’s challenge. Slumped shoulders. Better late than not.
Please check out what the other Daring Cooks made! LOL.