Thursday, October 11, 2007

French pot-luck!!!

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


JohnR said...

I guess I never accepted the full truth of Green Jello, though I still can't quite shake a good gratin. I had to convert to dolamades (and yours sound delicious and are reminding me of my hunger right now), even though I spent three years in Greece as a youngling.

But the question that's burning in my mind right now is: what are those things on the shelves behind you? Aren't those what mp3s used to come on? :P

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey John R!!!

LOL, Yep, this photo betrays just how technologically behind the times I am... ;^)

King Aardvark said...

No worries on the techie front, CL. Technologically, I'm still stuck in 1999 - which is when I left home for university and realized that I didn't have any money. Rather than torture myself by learning about all the wonderful new stuff I couldn't afford, I just ignored technology completely.

Freckle Face Girl said...

I loved stuffed grape leaves. I'll have to organize a pot luck & invite you. :)

Anonymous said...

Dammit, I never knew the green jello (one of my favorite dessert bases) and LDS link. But I don't like deviled eggs, what's a heathen to do?

I'll have to keep my guard up while visiting relatives during the upcoming holiday season. You can never be too careful :P

I'll have to give that recipe a whirl, it looks delicious!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey King Aardvark!!!

Yeah, that's a good system. I'm not really a gadget person, so when I see a new thing I'm more likely to worry about how soon it will be before my current stuff is no longer supported....

Hey FFG!!!

That would be cool!!!

Hey mxracer652!!!

Wow, it's good I warned you about that. If you ever showed up at a pot-luck with a green jello-based dessert, everyone would just assume you're a Mormon. They wouldn't even bother to ask. ;^)

Do try the grape leaves -- they're tastly and not that difficult to make. :D

Aerin said...

Looks good! What other types of dishes were at the pot luck? Inquiring minds want to know.

beatdad said...

After reading the comment about what is behind you in the picture, I expected vinyl. You are not as behind as I am.

Those grape leaves look great! I will have to try the recipe.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Aerin!!!

OK, I'll tell you, even though this diminishes the impressiveness of the compliments I got... ;^)

Actually, a lot of people brought things they bought from a bakery or pizza place -- which is fine really because the point is to have a social time with enough good food for everyone, and why not buy something if that's what works for you? Other than that, it was mostly pasta salads, couscous salads, and desserts.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Wayne!!!

If only you knew about our collection of mini-discs... ;^)

hm-uk said...

I love dolmades and have them as often as I can! I made a moussaka the other day and it goes down nicely, too. Shall we trade recipes? Mine is easy and foolproof, too.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Hm-Uk!!!

Cool, sounds fabulous!!! My recipe is posted right here -- please post yours, and I'll try it out!!! :D

The Sinister Porpoise said...

What you made sounds good, although I personally find French food overrated. It's the *Germans* who know their food...

(Then again, none of those peculiar Utah dishes go over well in Pennsylvania Dutch country at Mormon gatherings. Local food converts well to pot luck and is much tastier.)

hm-uk said...

Alas, after I posted my comment I remembered that you had supplied your recipe - some days I'm a little slow on the uptake!

Aitch's Moussaka

Garlic (as much as you can handle!)
1 pkg. Feta Cheese
3 large Potatoes
1 jar Tomato Passata (w/o salt if you can get it)
1 tin of tomatoes (unless you wish to use fresh)
1xRed Onion
lamb or beef mince (optional)

Sweat the aubergine with salt for 20 mins. Drain off the juice, wash in cold water and dry with paper toweling. Chop aubergine and courgette into rough cubes - not too small. Chop the Potatoes into 2.5 cm/1 inch cubes. Dice the onion. If you eat meat, brown the mince and garlic and save one tablespoon of the drippings to add to the ingredients. If you don't eat meat, saute the garlic and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Break the feta cheese into smallish pieces. Scatter the ingredients in the casserole dish and pour the passata and tinned tomatoes over the top. Mix in two generous pinches of oregano and stir the ingredients until everything is thoroughly mixed. Cover with foil and put into 235 C oven (not sure what the F conversion is...) for 45 mins. Test the potatoes in the middle - obviously when they're done, so is the rest of the moussaka. Serve hot with some greek yogurt (to cool it down...)

You'll find that there are variations on this recipe using a bechamel (white) sauce, too. Also, the feta is quite salty, so there's no need to add salt to the mix.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Hm-Uk!!!

Wow, that sounds good!!! It might be a bit more involved than I normally cook, but I just might try it... :D