I didn’t know that stuffed grape leaves were something people were passionate about until, at a party that she was hosting, my sister whispered furtively to her children that if they wanted some stuffed grape leaves that they had better be next to the platter when it came out. Sure enough, as soon as this food came out -which had cost her $75 – the scramble of aunts, uncles, cousins, grannies, grandchildren, elbows, knees and searching hands caused a pandemonium which, when the dust settled, revealed an empty platter. Woe to the family members who were not close by.
Grape leaves grow wild here in upstate New York. They are everywhere. My mother tells me that they should be picked by the end of June, so now has been the time to try my hand at creating this dish. I thought I would try to make a zine out of the recipe for this dish, so I have been playing with the graphics of grape leaves, as well as with the stuffing of them. My grandmother would use rice, mint, and ground lamb, but, instead of lamb I’ve used chickpeas. The rice is dry, there’s a teaspoon per leaf. The little pile of the filling is placed at the bottom of the leaf, the rolling starts, the sides get tucked in and the rolling continues.
It should be mentioned that some people, but not my mother, blanche the leaves before rolling in the rice. I blanche the leaves. As I wait a pot of water to boil, I have time to play with some of the grape leaves.
Grapes leaves are deeply furrowed, well, as much as a leaf can be, so they make great leaf prints.
Here I’ve scanned the leaves into photoshop and made the print more dramatic. I tried lots of different filters and backgrounds…most of them weren’t interesting. This is one that I like. Okay, now back to cooking.
Each little roll is placed closely to another on the bottom of a pot which is lined with larger leaves. We called these pigs-in-the-blanket. Yes, that’s what they look like. When they are all rolled and the pot is filled (I do only one layer at a time, but my grandmother did many layers) I add water until the little pigs are just under water, add salt, cover with a plate, to keep things securely tucked in, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Or a bit longer, depending if I am having any luck with photoshop. Then I add a good bit of lemon juice, simmer a bit more, turn off the heat, then let things sit, giving the rice enough time to absorb all the liquid.
Here’s the finished product, served with a dollop of old country yogurt. Yum.