I remember a neighborhood that I lived in long ago and the first time we were invited across the street to join our neighbors for dinner. These particular neighbors owned a restaurant and he was as Greek as they come. I decided that I would bring Spanacopita to dinner. One of the other guests remarked that she thought that I was pretty nervy to be bringing Spanacopita to this particular house. I really hadn’t thought anything of it until she mentioned it.
This was the beginning of a long friendship borne of a common appreciation for good food and good wine. We shared many meals together, simple and extravagant, and from them I learned to make several Greek dishes. Moussaka was a Greek dish that I tackled on my own, though, and he said that mine was better than his mother’s.
They would often go to visit YaYa, as they called his mother, driving for about an hour both ways. When they returned it was almost certain that they would be bringing dolmades made by YaYa’s loving hands and they would often share them with us. We would eat them cold with our fingers as a snack and they were usually accompanied by beer. It was a good combination.
Over the years venues change and people come and go but the memories linger. For me, these memories most often seem to take the form of meals shared. I haven’t seen either of them for many years now but when I saw that this month’s Daring Cooks challenge was to make dolmades, I was excited because this is one of the Greek dishes that I had never made. So, I know you are wondering, did I make a dish worthy of sharing at a Greek’s dinner table? All I can say is…YaYa would have been proud.
Grape Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat and Rice
with Apricot Tamarind Sauce/ Yebra
Adapted from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck and Michael J. Cohen. Published by Harper Collins, 2007
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound (455 gm) ground (minced)
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 1/3 oz) (65 gm) short grain rice
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) all spice
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) cinnamon
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) kosher (coarse) salt
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) white pepper
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup (5½ oz) (150 gm) pine nuts **optional**
Soak rice in water, enough to cover, for 30 minutes. Combine meat, rice, allspice, vegetable oil, cinnamon, salt, white pepper, onions, garlic and if desired, pine nuts, in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
If using grape leaves preserved in brine, put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them to remove the salt. Make sure that the water penetrates well between the layers and leave them soaking for about twenty minutes and then change the water a time or two using fresh cold water. If using fresh leaves, plunge a few at a time in boiling water for a few seconds only, until they become limp, and lift them out.
Ingredients for assembly:
1 pound (455 gm) hashu/filling (see recipe above)
36 preserved grape leaves, stems trimmed, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
6 dried apricots – or more if you desire
3 tablespoons (45 ml) tamarind concentrate
¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (9 gm) kosher (coarse) salt
- Place a grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up. You can trim the little stem if you would like.
- 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.
- Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.(You can freeze the stuffed grape leaves at this point. Just line a baking sheet with wax paper. When firmly frozen, transfer to an airtight plastic bag place back in the freezer.)
- In a medium saucepan put in the vegetable oil and then place the filled grape leaves in the pot with the seam at the bottom.
- Place apricots in between the stuffed grape leaves. Cover and cook over low heat for 5- 8 minutes or until the grape leaves begin to sweat.
- Using all three tablespoons, place a little of the tamarind concentrate over the rolls.
- Combine lemon juice, salt, and water and then add to pan, filling it ¾ full.
- Weigh down the grape leaves with a heat proof plate or board to prevent them from unraveling. Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes. Alternatively, place the saucepan in an oven preheated to moderate 350°F/180°C and cook for an hour.
- Spoon cooking liquid over the grape leaves occasionally. You will know they are done, when the grape leaves are neither soupy nor dry.
- Tilt pan sideways over serving platter, allowing the grape leaves to tumble out. Try not to handle them individually to reduce unraveling. Alternately you can try spooning them out very gently.
Tamarind paste can be found at Asian, Mexican or Indian grocers. You can also find the pods (a little more difficult) and make the paste yourself. It is akin to a sweet/tangy tea flavor.
Blog-checking lines: Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has 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.