Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Siren's Feast an Edible Odyssey by Nancy Mehagian is a culinary memoir. Really. There is a genre called culinary memoir. I've read a few, including Tender At the Bone by Ruth Reichl, (no recipes) and Pat Conroy Cookbook, (loaded with recipes). Good reads. So when it was announced that Nancy Mehagian would speak to the local writer's club, I was there early to get a front row seat.

Nancy Mehagian is an attractive woman in her late fifties or early sixties. She had a comfortable way about her, the way she stood, the way she dressed, her infectious smile. As she spoke, giving us a hint of her life, I knew that she had led a spiritual life, searching for adventure and truth. She read us the introduction to her book, about growing up Armenian in Arizona. About the large family gatherings where food was the star. She told us about traveling to Spain in her early twenties, falling in love with the country and opening a vegetarian restaurant there. She read us the chapter about her trip to the famous Amarnath cave in India, she hinted at a stay in prison in England. She was a hit. You know you are a hit when the audience begs you to read another chapter, so she did.

After her talk, we were invited to meet her at the back of the room. Smart lady, she brought two large plates of Stuffed Grape Leaves for us to sample. This woman knows how to sell a book.

A large jar of Grape Leaves has gathered dust in my pantry for about nine months. I think fear kept them there. I looked and looked at recipes. Most of them had raisins and cinnamon in them. I couldn't taste them - you know, how you can read a recipe and know it will be good.

Nancy Mehagian's stuffed grape leaves were delicious. I can't tell you for certain what convinced me that I needed to buy her book, the story or the recipe. I needed that recipe.

I made a few changes (in red) to her recipe. The finished product was delicious, but not as pretty as hers. It takes practice to wrap a perfect Grape Leaf, and after wrapping about 40, I got better. I love them, and I love the idea of gathering friends and family to prepare stuffed Grape Leaves together before a celebration. Like Mexican tamales, and Scandinavian stuffed cabbage, Stuffed Grape Leaves are a labor intensive project, made pleasurable when shared with friends.

Most of the Grape Leaves I made went to a solar eclipse party on the top of the Santa Monica Mountains. How appropriate. Sorry, I don't have a picture.

Stuffed Grape Leaves  

Makes a lot - 30-40 

1/3 cup olive oil (sunflower oil)
3 large onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp dried dill weed
1 tsp dried mint leaves (3 tablespoons fresh mint)
1/2 tsp paprika
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped (cilantro)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 cup white rice
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup water

1 jar of grape leaves, 16 oz

1 cup water
1 lemon + 1 lemon, sliced at serving time.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Saute onions and garlic in oil until translucent.
Add next ten ingredients and cook for about 10-15 minutes. The rice will not be done, but on it's way.
Stuff the grape leaves as shown HERE, putting about a teaspoon of rice mixture in the center of the leaf.
Arrange the stuffed grape leaves in the bottom of a dutch oven, pour 1 cup of water and the juice of one lemon over the grape leaves, cover and bake about 20 minutes, until rice is cooked.
Cool. You can serve these hot or cold. I prefer cold. 

Serve as an appetizer with fresh lemon wedges. 

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