Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stuffing To Impress

First, let me apologize for the potential dirtiness of this post’s title. I don’t mean it that way. Rather, I am talking about trying to impress people with your culinary skills. Stuffing one food item into another food item is always impressive. It can be a duck stuffed inside a chicken stuffed inside a turkey, or something simpler like stuffed artichokes or stuffed peppers. However you stuff it – it’s always impressive.
This is a good point to keep in mind especially when you really want some oohs and ahhs the next time you bring a dish to a potluck or host a party. And let’s be honest, sometimes you just want a few marveled guests to stare at you incredulously as they bite into the spectacular stuffed dish you produced.

The only problem to this end result is of course actually producing something spectacular. I find that when I need to bring something to a party I either, give myself zero time, have ten other things I am supposed to do prior to or during the party or I completely blank on something to make and wind up bringing something safe.
Well, my friends, here is a recipe to use in those kinds of situations! Granted, this does take a lot of time to do, but you can space it out over a few days which will ease the labor a bit. I have made these now approximately 3 times. Each time, specifically to impress people.

The first time was around my college graduation. I was making appetizers to bring over to an extended relative’s house for a mini graduation party. This might not seem too bad, except I had invited my new boyfriend’s parents over as well. Not only did I need to plan the party, and make the appetizers, but I had to seem effortless at it. I think I managed to pull it off, since only a select few people saw me choking on a burger while running from work, to pick up graduation tickets, to run home to shower to meet my parents to go for a drink at the cookbook author’s house and then to go to dinner with friends and family. Somewhere in between all those things, I managed to make these.
The next time I made these, was to impress now steady boyfriend’s extended family at Thanksgiving dinner across the country. Being in California, I felt I needed to be a bit snooty about presentation and the dish itself, so this worked out perfectly. I needn’t have worried about this as much, because after helping to make many of the side dishes for the night and after washing a very large pile of dishes, I proved my worth.
And then, most recently I made these this past weekend. Not to impress people, but just for something different and a little fancy. I know this doesn’t seem like a lot of recipe testing, but I promise the end result does not disappoint.

So as we approach the season for graduations, bridal showers and baby showers, keep this recipe in mind. A platter of these will impress even the most calloused of guests.

Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves
As adapted from The New American Cooking by Joan Nathan
I have not quite figured out the prefect ratio of filling to leaves. I recommend you buy two jars of leaves, or halve the amount of ingredients. But I like the filling, and tend to eat it as a side dish for other meals. The recipe is not difficult, but it takes a long time. So if you can, make the rice the evening before and then roll the leaves and steam them.

Makes about 50 grape leaves. Oh and by the way, this recipe happens to be vegan.

¾ c. olive oil
3 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)
2 cups brown rice
½ c. pine nuts
1/3 c. dried currants
5 cups water
1 Tb. dried mint
2 Tb. dried dill
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. all spice
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 Tb. salt
2 tsp. sugar
2 16 oz. jars of grape leaves
2 ½ lemons

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes and add rice, stirring regularly about 10 minutes. Add 4 cups water and simmer, covered about 15 minutes, then add the pine nuts and currants, continue to simmer another 25 minutes, until rice is cooked and most of the water is absorbed. Add spices and sugar, stir to combine.

Cover the pot with a paper towel, and then replace the lid. Allow to cool, about 30 minutes, or overnight.

Drain and rinse leaves, carefully separating each leaf. Soak leaves in a bowl of cold water for about 5 minutes. Drain leaves, and sprinkle with lemon juice from one of the lemons. While separating the leaves, keep aside any torn leaves. Use these to line the bottom of a large heavy bottomed pot, with the dull side of the leaves facing up.

To stuff a grape leaf, place it dull side up on your work surface with the stem closest to you. Spoon some of the rice mixture (about 1 tsp, or less depending on the size of the leaf) into the bottom third, center of the leaf.

Fold up the stem side of the leaf over the rice, then fold each side of the leaf in towards the center over the rice mixture. While holding these in place on the rice, gently roll the leaf away from you. Place the bundle seam side down into the pan. As you continue to roll the leaves, place them snugly next to each other, until one layer is complete. Then place new leaves in a second layer alternating from the bottom layer (like bricks). Sprinkle with the juice of one lemon. Add in the remaining 1 cup of water, and use a few of the remaining leaves to cover the rolled ones. Place a small plate on top to weigh them all down.

Cover the pot with its lid, and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Allow to cool in pot until ready to serve. When ready to serve, move grape leaves to a platter and sprinkle with juice of ½ a lemon.

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