This past weekend I went to my first pot-luck picnic since I've been living in France!!! (It was held by a club that my kids are in.)
In the spirit of true cultural exchange I probably should have brought green jello with grated carrots (Nomoxian's favorite!) or tried my hand at fMh Lisa's funeral potatoes. But the problem is that (being an apostate and everything) I don't like funeral potatoes and green jello.
So I decided to prepare the one recipe I know and love: Stuffed grape leaves!!!
I got this recipe out of my favorite cookbook: The Complete book of Greek cooking.
Now, I know that being my favorite cookbook isn't much of a recommendation since -- as I freely admit -- I never cook. But I kind of like the introductory section of this book where they explain the religious traditions (the book is actually from the recipe club of a Greek Orthodox Cathedral). I find the rules for Lent to be kind of intriguing: they're required to be strictly vegan except that (non-fish) sea-food is allowed. So buttered toast is a no-no, but delicious Mussels with Wine Sauce (p. 90) is A-OK. You could probably also have Baked Lobster Tails with Feta (p. 92) if it weren't for the feta. So, while cooking, you get the fun of contemplating this mysterious tradition. And we can all understand each other better in this big world by exchanging yadda yadda yadda, really I just like Greek food.
Anyway, stuffed grape leaves are quite easy to make -- it's just a little time-consuming to roll them, so I make this recipe only once every few years. There's a vegetarian version which normally I would make because it's better to limit one's meat consumption, however the meat version is easier, so that's the one I make.
I assume it's okay to excerpt this one recipe in case any of you would like to try it at home:
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef or lamb (I've tried both, they both work fine)
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup raw converted rice (I actually used Basmati rice since that's what we have at my house)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup water
1-pound jar of grape leaves
3 cups hot chicken broth
1 T butter (olive oil also seems to work)
Mix together all of the ingredients listed above the asterisks. Drain the grape leaves and wash them thoroughly. Take a large cooking pot with a lid and line the bottom with grape leaves (use the broken ones for this, otherwise you'll run out). Then stuff the grape leaves by putting a heaping tablespoon's worth of filling at the base of the dull side of each leaf, then -- folding the sides in -- roll tightly. Place them in rows in the cooking pot as shown in the picture:
Pour the broth over them and dot the top with butter. Then cover them and cook them over low heat for one hour. If you have an enameled iron pot exactly like mine (see the picture), then they will fit just perfectly. Otherwise -- if there's room at the top of the pot above the grape leaves -- you may need to put a plate inside the pot to weigh them down so that they won't open when the rice expands.
And that's it, they're ready to go!
(The book recommends serving them with avgolemono sauce, but I don't think they really need it -- they're quite flavorful as they are.)
These are fabulous to bring to a pot-luck since they're a main course that divides very easily into small portions. And mine were a huge hit!!! They all got eaten, and I actually had people come find me so they could compliment me on my delicious grape leaves. (Hard to believe, I know, but my husband will confirm that this story is true.)
It surprised me to get such a reaction since -- have I mentioned this? -- I never cook. (Or rather every time I do I make a huge deal out of it and turn it into a photo op...). I'd have taken a picture of the finished product, but they didn't look any different from the delicious grape leaves I had at le Hammurabi.
So the moral of this tale is that if you ever invite me to a pot-luck dinner, there's a good chance I'll bring stuffed grape leaves... :D