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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.

Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup

7 Jul

cherry soup 2Don’t be put off by the Pepto-Bismol color! This is a yummy cold soup made with fresh sour cherries, now in season in Michigan (America’s sour cherry capital!)

We’ve had a cherry tree in our yard for at least 20 years, but we rarely get to enjoy the fruit. In the past, many of the cherries were infested with fruit fly larvae, which looked like tiny white worms. I discovered this when, after I pitted a large quantity of cherries in preparation for making a pie, I noticed the bowl of fruit moving on its own. YUCK! I had to throw away the whole bowlful.

In subsequent years I would inspect every cherry carefully as I pitted it and had to throw away half or more because of the worms.

Last year, because of a late frost, our tree produced not a single cherry.

This year, for whatever reason, the fruit flies had pity on us. A few cherries were infested, but many fewer than in the past. I was able to pick more than three quarts of cherries. I gave one to a friend in exchange for a bunch of rhubarb  from his garden, I froze one, and I used the rest to make this super soup.

You can use plain Greek yogurt instead of the sour cream. When I made it a few weeks ago, all I had was vanilla Greek yogurt, so I used that and reduced the amount of sugar a little bit.

Ingredients:

6 cups water
1 lb. fresh sour cherries, pitted (about 3 cups)
¾ cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbs. flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tsp. confectioners’ sugar

Directions:

In a large saucepan, cook cherries with water and sugar until cherries are soft, about 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix sour cream with flour, salt and confectioners’ sugar until smooth.

Add about a half-cup of the hot cherry liquid to the sour cream mixture and whisk until smooth. Slowly add the sour cream mixture to the saucepan with the cherries, and stir or whisk until the liquid is smooth. Simmer for 5 minutes but don’t boil.

Cool to room temperature. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the soup so that a skin doesn’t form and refrigerate at least one hour.

Serve cold as a first course or as a dessert. You may want to add a dollop of sour cream or whipped cream.

Serves 6

Strawberry Soup

29 Jul

strawberry soupHere’s another nice fruity summer recipe.

I love it that I can now get recipes from my kids in addition to providing recipes for them! My daughter Miriam made this for dessert for Shabbat lunch one hot summer day when we were visiting. It also works as a first course. It’s super-easy and super-tasty.

I made this for a meal where one of our guests was diabetic, and substituted Splenda for the sugar. I couldn’t tell the difference, so if you need to replace the sugar, you can do so easily.

You can easily double or triple the recipe, but you may have to blend or process in several batches.

Ingredients:

1 pint strawberries (fresh, or one bag frozen)
½ cup apple juice
2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
sour cream or Greek yogurt, optional
Fresh strawberry slices, kiwi slices or mint leaves for garnish

Directions:

Clean and hull the strawberries if using fresh. Partially thaw frozen berries.

Place Strawberries, apple juice, sugar and lemon juice in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Chill until ready to serve.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, if desired. Garnish with fresh strawberry slices, kiwi slices or mint leaves.

Serves 2 to 4

 

Vegetarian Chopped Liver

31 Mar

Vegetarian Chopped LiverI had seen variations on this recipe for ages and it always sounded disgusting – I mean, walnuts and canned green beans, really! Then I went to a cooking demonstration led by the wonderful Annabel Cohen. She made this dish and distributed the recipe. It was delicious! I’ve been making it ever since (modified slightly) and sharing the recipe. With a food processor, it’s very easy to prepare.

I make this for Passover. If your custom is not to eat green beans at Passover, you can substitute 12 oz. of mushrooms; slice them and cook till all the moisture evaporates and cool before processing. (Opening a can of green beans is a lot easier!)

Ingredients:

2 Tbs. vegetable or olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 cups walnuts (halves or pieces)
1 can (14-16 oz.) green beans, drained
½ tsp. salt, or more to taste
Pepper to taste
3 hard-cooked eggs

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions until they are golden brown. Add the walnuts and continue to sauté, stirring frequently, another 3 minutes or so until the walnuts are toasted (they’ll start to become fragrant). Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes.

Put the onions and walnuts in the food processor with the canned green beans and process until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides of the food processor once or twice. Add the salt and pepper. Cut the hard-cooked eggs in half and add them to the food processor. Pulse just until the eggs are chopped; you’ll want to see little flecks of egg in the mixture.

Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve.

Serves 8 as an appetizer, more as a party spread

Guacamole

1 Feb

ImageJust in time for the Super Bowl — and a good recipe to take advantage of cheap avocados. At least in Detroit they’ve been cheap — we got some this week for 49 cents each!

When we moved to Detroit in 1976, we lived in the Palmer Park, an apartment community inhabited primarily by young professionals and graduate students. The citizens’ council published a cookbook, What’s Cooking in Palmer Park. This recipe was contributed by Rob Musial, who called it Holey Moley Guacamole Dip and Neat Tree Trip – because after the recipe, Rob told readers how they could grow an avocado tree by sticking toothpicks in the avocado pit and suspending it for a few weeks with the pointy half in water; after it starts to sprout, you can plant it. Seems like everyone in the mid-70s had an avocado tree in their living room!

This was the first guacamole I ever made, and it’s among the best I’ve ever tasted. I altered the recipe only slightly. Rob’s recipe called for the inclusion of MSG, which I never use. And I like to add in a little chopped tomato.

Ingredients:

1 large avocado or 2 small ones
2 Tbs. lemon (or lime) juice
1 Tbs. minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
(¼ cup chopped ripe tomato)
8 drops Tabasco or other hot sauce
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. chili powder

Directions:

Thoroughly mash the avocado. Sprinkle it with lemon juice (or lime juice if you prefer) and stir well. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Chill for 1 hour before serving. Serve with corn or tortilla chips.