G232: Garden Fare & Stuffed Grape Leaves

After griping about the poor yields of my garden bed and the community garden, I am forced to admit that I have been feeding myself pretty damn well from what I can harvest. It is just as well nobody else seems interested in the garden or I’d have competition. This week I have the long Chinese noodle beans, acorn squash, carrots, zucchini, Roma tomatoes, fennel, lettuce, radishes and possibly some okra.

Not only that, I am the recipient of stuffed grape leaves from my son. Lucky for me, he has been craving them for two weeks running. I taught him the recipe most like his Lebanese grandmother’s. It is made with ground lamb. I asked him if we could try to cook it in the solar oven. He said he didn’t want to risk it with this batch. I will have to suggest it again sometime.

This is more like the version I would like to try some day when I have my own grape leaves growing where I have shaped rebar arches to hold them. I’m feeling I need to experiment with the recipe below to make stuffed grape leaves more local, vegetarian and homegrown. I might eliminate a bunch of steps and simply let the ingredients cook within the grape leaves. There is something too fussy about this recipe from here.

For the stuffing:

Soak over night or for a few hours:
3 cups long grain brown rice (Basmati or Jasmine are the best)

1 large diced onion
1 Tbs olive oil
1-2 large carrots, grated
2 large bundles of baby dill, finely chopped
1 large bundle of spearmint leaves, finely chopped
1-2 tsp salt
1-2 tsp allspice, ground
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup or more pine nuts, toasted
a handful or raisins (optional)
6 cups of boiling water

One large lemon (I’d double)
3 Tbs olive oil (or to taste)
1⁄2 cup water

In a large pot, sauté the onions in the olive oil until slightly golden. Add the carrots and stir constantly. Strain the rice and add more oil to the pot if needed. Sauté the drained rice along with the onions and carrots, for about 5 minutes, while constantly stirring to avoid scorching. Add the raisins and boiling water and cook on high heat until water reaches boil. Reduce to low heat, and let simmer until water is only at the bottom. Turn off the heat, and leave covered for 15-20 minutes, until rice has absorbed all the water.

Toast the pine nuts in a pan, and add the pine nuts and chopped herbs to the rice and mix well. Transfer to a big bowl and wait until it is cool enough to work with your hands and stuff the leaves.

To prepare the leaves:

Pick as many leaves as you can – 150-200 leaves should be a good start, and if you need more you can pick more later. Pick only the largest of the youngest (which are also the softest) leaves, and keep the stems on (the stems will not be removed until just before stuffing the leaves). One jar of leaves would be enough if you are not picking your own leaves. [. . .]

Boil a pot full of water with one tablespoon salt. Blanch the leaves until they change their colour from bright green to olive (at this point they will look as if they were pickled).

With a small pairing knife, remove the stem of each leaf before stuffing. Place a teaspoon of rice in the middle of the leaf, and fold the sides of the leaf starting from the top and the sides (next to the stem), and then roll to the bottom. Be sure not to over stuff, in order to achieve an elegant, elongated shape of each stuffed leaf.

Place the leaves in a pot, arrange them in circles and layers, and make sure they are sitting tight and close to each other. Add 1⁄2 cup water, lemon juice of one large lemon and three tablespoons of olive oil. Place a ceramic plate large enough to cover the leaves but small enough to fit into the pot (as to keep the leaves and place so that they don’t open during the cooking). Simmer in low heat for 30-45 minutes, until all the water is evaporated. If there is an excess of water after 45 minutes, gently pour it out.

Wait until the leaves cooled a bit, transfer into trays and serving plate and enjoy!

I confess I was drawn to this recipe simply because the blogger describes grape leaves so beautifully. I think it goes without saying, grapes are one of the finest natural snack foods on earth. I do believe they are a wonderfully sensual food. I would love to grow grapes to have the vines to use in craft projects. If I were I wine drinker I would be especially enamored of this plant life and all of its myriad uses. Here is what this Canadian blogger wrote about stuffed grape leaves.
While grapevine leaves do not have a very distinctive scent, they have the most fantastic tangy flavour, and are used for the legendary stuffed grapevine leaves. Everything about making this classic specialty dish is sensual and relaxing. Picking the leaves and arranging them in orderly piles; blanching them in salt water; rolling the fragrant rice, spiked with mint, dill, allspice and pine nuts; their fragrant and quiet simmer in lemon juice and olive oil; and finally, eating the cool and elegant rolled leaves one by one, admiring their exquisitely delicate flavour.

Grape arbor photograph

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