Armenian Stuffed Grape Leaves

8 Jul

grape leavesWe have a bumper crop of grape leaves in our yard, so I just made another batch of these wonderful stuffed grape leaves. The easiest way to tell you about it is to share the post I wrote about them last year for my other food blog, Feed the Spirit. Here it is:

My husband has a wooden swing in the backyard where he likes to hang out on summer afternoons, but it’s right in the sun and can get a little uncomfortable.

To provide some shade, he planted two grapevines next to the swing, one on each side, a couple of years ago, hoping they’d climb up over the swing. I have no idea what kind of grapes they are – one is white, and one is red.

Our grapevine-covered backyard swing.

Our grapevine-covered backyard swing.

Last year we even had two minuscule clusters of grapes, which the birds enjoyed. This year, we had enough to make a couple of pints of grape juice.

But I was also interested in the vines for grape leaves. Living in Detroit, with its large Greek, Chaldean and Arab populations, we’ve been enjoying stuffed grape leaves for decades. They’re often stuffed with lamb, but we eat vegetarian versions. I’ve never made them, but with lush grapevines growing right outside my kitchen window, I thought this was a great time to try.

 

I’d been interested in trying my hand at stuffed grape leaves since last spring, when I participated in a program about food with Jewish and Chaldean (Iraqi Catholic) women. One of the Chaldean women told how almost every cook in her community keeps a large supply of grape leaves on hand.

The women frequently gather in groups to stuff grape leaves, she said, kind of like a Middle Eastern version of a quilting bee.

One family she knows almost got in trouble because of her grape leaves. The family had a house fire, and after the firemen took care of the emergency, they were about to arrest her; they had looked in her freezer, which was full of grape leaves, and thought she was growing marijuana illegally!

Thank you, Joan Nathan!

Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan

What convinced me to finally take action was this video and recipe from Joan Nathan, the doyenne of American Jewish cooking, which showed up in my Facebook feed. Her book, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, is one of my all-time faves.

I followed her recipe and her directions, and the result was dee-lish! As she says, you don’t need to grow your own grapes or raid a neighbor’s vine; jarred grape leaves, available in any Middle Eastern or specialty grocery store, will do equally well.

These Armenian stuffed grape leaves are super-flavorful, with onions, tomatoes, currants and pine nuts, and a variety of seasonings including mint, dill, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.

The filling isn’t hard to make; the only fiddly part of the recipe is actually stuffing and rolling the leaves, which was a little challenging to one used to making the much larger stuffed cabbage rolls. It also takes awhile because you need to prepare the filling, then let it cool, then make the rolls, then cook the rolls.

I took them to a holiday lunch at a friend’s house and they were scarfed up in no time!

Joan suggests trying the same stuffing with chard leaves. We had some chard in our garden, so I made a few that way. The taste was great, but the chard leaves, which are long and thin, were actually harder to roll than the grape leaves.

If you make more than you can eat at once, you can freeze them. Put the extra rolls in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to make sure all the rolls are lightly coated with oil, then place them in a plastic freezer bag. Defrost in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients:

One 15-oz. or 1-lb. jar of grape leaves (about 70 leaves) — or 70 fresh grape leaves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup currants
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup snipped fresh dill
1 Tbs. dried or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 Tbs. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 cup short- or medium-grain rice, uncooked
1 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 cups diced fresh tomatoes or 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, with juices
2 lemons

Directions:

If you use fresh grape leaves, blanch them for 1 minute in boiling water. then drain. If you use jarred, drain the grape leaves, then carefully unwrap each leaf, remove and discard any stems. Put the leaves in a large bowl with water to cover. Let soak while you prepare the filling.

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large covered skillet, and add the onions. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Uncover the skillet and sauté for a few more minutes until beginning to turn golden.

Add the pine nuts, currants, parsley, dill, mint, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, salt, pepper, rice, 1 cup of water, sugar, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the rice is almost cooked. Remove from heat and stir in the juice of 1 of the lemons, then set aside to cool slightly.

Line the bottom of a heavy 6-quart pot with 10 of the leaves, dull side up.

Put 1 leaf on a flat surface, dull side up, with the stem end toward you. Spoon on 1 tablespoon of filling near the stem end of the leaf and flatten the filling to the width of the leaf. (Editor’s note: I’m sure she means one level measuring-spoon tablespoon; don’t use a soup spoon or you’ll have too much for one leaf. It may be easier to use a teaspoon.) Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold the sides into the center and roll away from you. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.

Arrange the stuffed grape leaves, seam sides down, in rows along the bottom of the lined pot, then stack them on top of each other.

Pour 1 cup of water over the leaves and place a small plate on top to keep the leaves weighted down. Cover the pot and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes more. Allow to cool in the pot, then drain.

Serve warm or at room temperature as an appetizer, sprinkled with the juice of the remaining lemon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If you like, you can also top them with yogurt.

To freeze: drizzle with olive oil and toss lightly to cover all the stuffed grape leaves with a thin film of oil, then pack into a plastic freezer bag or container.

Apricot-Ginger Chicken

15 Jun

chicken apricot ginger

This is a nice recipe that will impress guests at a dinner party. It’s similar to Chicken Marbella but with different flavors. It can easily be halved if you want to make just one chicken. It takes a bit of planning, because it’s best if the chicken marinates overnight — but it’s worth it!

Ingredients:

2 chickens, cut in eight pieces each
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup dry white wine

Marinade:

12 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (or use 1 Tbs. bottled crushed garlic)
½-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated (or 1 tsp. from a jar)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbs. dried thyme leaves
⅓ cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbs. oil
3 bay leaves
1 cup dried apricots, plumped in ½ cup orange juice
Ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Mix ingredients for marinade, and marinate chicken overnight in the refrigerator (gallon size freezer bags are good for this).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drain the chicken and reserve the marinade. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on 2 large, foil-covered pans. Spoon the reserved marinade over the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken with the brown sugar and pour the white wine over it.

Bake for 45 minutes, basting a few times. The chicken should be nicely browned. Remove from the oven and drain the juices. Skim off the fat. Serve the sauce on the side, if you like.

Serves 8

Honey Lime Tilapia

31 May

Tilapia Honey Lime

I recently made this tasty dish using “Dover” sole that I bought at Trader Joe. Dover sole is Joe’s favorite fish, and while this may have been sole, the package said it was wild-caught in the United State, so it doesn’t seem likely that the fish actually swam over from Dover, England before being caught. I know Dover sole has become kind of a generic name, but we’re sticklers for accuracy around here!

No matter, this is a nice recipe that’s a good choice for a light summer supper, and it’s pretty easy to make. You could also use flounder or any other thin, mild, white fish.

Honey Lime Tilapia

Parve

This recipe comes from Mel’s Kitchen Café (www.melskitchencafe.com).

Ingredients:

4 tilapia fillets, about 4-5 oz. each
2 Tbs. lime juice (1 large lime)
Zest of 1 lime
1 Tbs. olive oil
1½ Tbs. honey
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1-2 Tbs. olive oil

Directions:

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, lime zest, olive oil, honey, salt, pepper and garlic.

Place the tilapia in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over the fish. Press the air out of the bag and seal. Refrigerate the fish for at least an hour and up to 4 hours (lay the bag in a flat dish and turn it over once or twice during the marinading time).

Whisk together the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish like a pie plate. Dredge each tilapia fillet in the flour, coating both sides lightly, and set the fillets aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until rippling and hot. Cook the fillets for 3 to 5 minutes per side without moving the fish while it cooks on each side. Adjust the cooking time as needed depending on the thickness of the fish and the heat of the skillet. Work in batches as necessary to avoid crowding the fish.

Serve immediately with lime wedges.

Serves 4

Farmer cheese casserole

5 May

farmer cheese casserole

I bought a package of farmer cheese for Passover because I like to make a matzo-cheese-leek pie. Farmer cheese is kind of like a smooth and dry cottage cheese, a little like feta cheese but not as crumbly and with a less tart taste. Unfortunately, I forgot that my recipe called for half a pound of farmer cheese, and I bought the larger, one-pound package.

After Passover, I had to figure out what to do with the rest of the farmer cheese, so I took a look at what was in my fridge and came up with this recipe.

If you don’t have farmer cheese, you can substitute small-curd cottage cheese (drain it before adding to the rest of the ingredients) or finely crumbled feta cheese.

I had leftover rice so I used a little of that to add starch and thickening, in place of the flour I would normally use. Don’t make rice just for this recipe; use flour instead.

Ingredients:

3 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
half a bell pepper (I used yellow), diced
1 small tomato, chopped
1 10-oz. box frozen spinach, thawed and drained
3 eggs
1 cup farmer cheese
1 oz. cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese, cubed
1/4 cup cooked rice or 3 Tbs. flour
salt and black pepper to taste (the cheese may be salty enough that you don’t need to add any)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano or basil

Directions:

Heat half the butter or oil in a medium skillet and saute the onions and peppers until soft. Add the chopped tomato and spinach, and continue cooking until any liquid is evaporated. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the remaining butter or oil in an 8-inch square baking dish (or use a glass pie plate) and put it in the oven for a few minutes until the butter melts or the oil is heated.

Beat the eggs and add in the farmer cheese and cubed cheese, then the cooked and cooled vegetables, rice or flour, and spices. Mix well.

Pour the melted butter or hot oil into the mixture, and then put everything into the greased baking dish or pie plate.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until firm and slightly browned.

Serves 4

 

Spanish-style chicken with mamaliga

19 Apr

chicken before passover

Planning meals right before Passover is a challenge. We do our best to use up all our chametz — stuff that is forbidden during Passover — which leaves us with little to chow down on just before the holiday starts.

We usually get our kitchen squared away for Passover on the weekend, though now that we’re retired it’s more out of habit than necessity. But here we were, with a kosher-for-Passover kitchen on Monday and very little that is not kosher-for-Passover in the pantry. Hmm, no pasta or noodles allowed, not even matzo before the holiday starts, and we hadn’t done our big fruit-and-veg shopping and so I didn’t have any potatoes. What could I serve with chicken breast?

Then I had a bright idea. Why not eat kitniyot? This is a word that refers generally to rice, beans and seeds — things that are not forbidden on Passover by law but have become taboo among Ashkenazi Jews (from central and eastern Europe) by custom.

The powers that be in Conservative Judaism, of which I am a member, recently ruled that it’s OK to eat kitniyot at Passover. But my daughter and her family follow stricter kashrut standards and won’t accept that ruling, so we’ll go by our long-standing tradition and abstain during the holiday.

BUT…kitniyot are not the forbidden chametz, and so cooking with them will not invalidate the kosher-ness of my Passover pots and dishes. And since it’s not Passover yet, why not eat kitniyot until Friday night, when the festival begins?

Our custom has always been to open fresh packages of foodstuffs for Passover, and I didn’t have any unopened packages of rice, so that was out. But I did have a nice big bag of stoneground cornmeal from the Livesay Grist Mill at Fiddlers Grove in Lebanon, Tennesee, a sourvenir from the Wilson County Fair where my musician son played last August. I hadn’t opened it yet because I was waiting to use up the box of Quaker cornmeal I had just bought before he presented me with this gift — and how often do we use cornmeal?

All this is prelude to tell you why I came up with this dish that we had for dinner last night. And I made enough to have once again before Passover. Since we’re in Jewish mode, I’m calling it mamaliga, which is a Rumanian-origin cornmeal mush similar to polenta, but without any cheese added.

Ingredients:

3 cups water
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups cornmeal
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped (I used two mini-peppers)
1 stalk celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large chicken breast halves, cut in half horizontally to make thin, flat pieces (about 1 lb. total)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

For the mamaliga:

Bring the water with the salt to a full boil. Slowly add the cornmeal while stirring briskly with a wooden spoon to avoid lumps.

Lower the heat and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 10 to 20 minutes until the cornmeal is thick and pulls away from the side of the pan. Keep on very low heat until ready to serve.

For the chicken:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over  medium heat and saute the onions  for about 3 minutes.

Add the pepper, celery and garlic and continue to saute for another 3 minutes or so until the vegetables are soft.

Shove the vegetables aside and add the chicken slices to the pan. Cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until no longer pink.  Add the tomatoes and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mamaliga among four plates (or make two plates and save the rest for another meal). Top each serving with one of the chicken slices and a generous amount of vegetables.

Serves 4

 

 

 

 

Passover Chocolate Truffle Cake

3 Apr

Passover chocolate truffle cake

Passover is less than three weeks away (yikes) so you’re probably planning your holiday meals.

This recipe isn’t what I’d call easy, but it’s really yummy and it’s gluten free. You can kid yourself that it’s good for you because it’s made with sweet potatoes – which you can’t really taste, but which help make it lighter than most flourless chocolate cakes.

You can gussy it up more than I did in this photo by garnishing with berries and/or whipped topping.

Ingredients:

16 oz. semisweet chocolate, divided
1½ cups baked mashed sweet potatoes at room temperature (or use canned sweet potatoes)
1/3 cup plus ¼ cup sugar
1 Tbs. vanilla sugar or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. very soft unsalted butter or margarine
6 large eggs, separated
¼ tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper.

Melt 10 oz. of the chocolate in the top of a double boiler and let cool.

Using a wire whisk, blend together the mashed sweet potatoes with 1/3 cup of sugar, the vanilla sugar or vanilla and the softened butter until well blended.

Stir in the egg hyolks and then the melted chocolate, mixing to blend.

In a clean, dry bowl, whip the egg whites with an electric mixer, starting on low speed. When the egg whites are foamy, add the salt and whip on high speed, slowly dusting in the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the sweet potato mixture and work in to lighten the batter. Then gently fold in the remaining 2/3 of the egg whites, blending well but taking care not to deflate the mixture.

Spoon into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes. The cake will rise somewhat, look dry, and have a slight crack on top. The middle should be soft but firm.

Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove the sides from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Chill for at least an hour.

Make the ganache glaze: Chop the remaining 6 oz. of chocolate. Bring ¼ cup of water to a gentle boil and add the chocolate all at once. Remove from heat and stir briskly with a wire whisk until all the chocolate melts and is a thick sauce-like consistency. Refrigerate for an hour.

Invert the cake onto a platter so the flat bottom faces up. Pour the glaze over the cake, using a spatula to even it out and spread along the sides.

Serves 8 to 10

Hamentaschen

8 Mar

HamentaschenI just bought a can of Solo pie filling for my annual hamentasch bake. With Purim coming up in just a few weeks, I thought I’d rerun my recipe for hamentaschen, which I offered you three years ago. It’s a winner! The dough is sweet but not too sweet, and you can roll it out thin.

The Jewish festival of Purim commemorates the events told in the Book of Esther. The three-cornered shape is supposed to represent Haman’s hat, though the word means “Haman’s pockets” in Yiddish.

My mother wasn’t much of a cook, but she baked these hamentaschen every year. She got the recipe from our neighbor in Northeast Philadelphia, Ida Silver. In 2007, I read a Hadassah magazine article by Judy Davis, Ida’s oldest child, called “My Mother’s Hamentaschen.” But the recipe in the magazine was not my mother’s recipe!

I hadn’t seen Judy in at least 40 years but I tracked her down and emailed her. In her response she admitted it the recipe not her mother’s, which she either never had or lost. “But I would love to see my mother’s recipe if you would be willing to email it to me,” she wrote. “I must have had a copy at some time, though I have no memory of it….I love the idea of your mother having used her recipe (it means my mother must have shared some of them with her), and I love that it is being handed down to the next generation.”

I think my daughter has begun making these as well, with help from her daughter, continuing the tradition.

Pinching hamentaschen into a three-cornered shape

Pinch the hamentaschen into a three-cornered shape

Like my mother, I don’t use a board to roll out the dough. I cover the kitchen table with an old sheet and work some flour into it and use that as my workspace.

The recipe can easily be doubled.

Ingredients:

2½ cups flour
2½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
⅓ cup vegetable shortening
¼ cup honey
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 eggs
1 can Solo fruit or poppy pastry filling

Directions:

Sift dry ingredients together. Cream shortening and sugar. Add honey and lemon juice and mix well. Add part of flour, then eggs, then rest of flour. Dough should be soft enough to form a ball but not stickyDirections:

Preheeat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out on a floured board, cut out rounds using a cookie cutter or glass (dip edge into flour). Place a half-teaspoon of filling in the center of each piece, then pinch into a three-cornered shape. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies

 

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