I'm in love with Middle Eastern Food. This love affair started about 5 years ago when I volunteered to watch the home during the funeral of a prominent Persian business man. Unfortunately high profile funerals are a heads up to criminals that the home is empty, and he was a jewelry and Persian rug dealer making it even a bigger target. When I said I would stay and watch the home I had no idea what I was getting into. Big women with big hair and big bosoms flew in from New York and Los Angeles. They were dripping in diamonds and wrapped in pearls the size of ping pong balls. Their husbands followed behind carrying suitcases and bags overflowing with pots, pans and food. And I mean FOOD!!!
What I didn't expect was my added responsibility of cooking and "watching" the food. There were six burners going with something different on each one. There were electric skillets plugged in everywhere and each pot and skillet came with an "order" of what I was to do with them. I had a BIG responsibility. It was during that afternoon that I realized the importance of food in so many cultures and how it brings family together to help heal, love, and deal with grief.
The tastes from each pot and skillet were amazing. I stirred and watched and tasted and knew that someday I wanted to recreate the experience. When the family returned from the service, giant tables were laden with breads, fresh herbs, nuts, cheese, and bowls of jeweled rice, chicken and meat dishes with a myriad of flavors. I never forgot that day and finally decided that the time was right to learn about this cuisine.
I bought the book Jerusalem a cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. What a fabulous book. It is not only filled with recipes but so much history of the different cultures in the Middle East. Jerusalem is a crossroad between Europe, Asia and Africa and became a hub of food and recipe exchanges. Middle Eastern cuisine is based on healthy food like vegetables, fruits, fish, lean meats, beans, nuts, and aromatic spices.
I had a small dinner party with some recipes from my new book. It just so happened that this weeks Food Matters Project recipe chosen by Keelymarie was Rolled Cabbage. I used Mark Bittman's recipe as inspiration to make stuffed grape leaves. One guest is a vegetarian so I made Chickpea & Bulgur Stuffed Grape Leaves. They are in the left corner of the picture. I served the grape leaves with a yogurt and lemon zest sauce from Pidge's Pantry. I'll be posting the other recipes in the following weeks.
Izmir Iced Tea Cocktails
Pita bread with spicy hummus
Spiced and marinated olives and spiced garbanzo beans
Chickpea & Bulgur Stuffed Grape Leaves with a Lemon Yogurt Sauce
Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds
Pasta with Yogurt, Peas and Chile
Kendall Jackson Reserve Syrah
CHICKPEA & BULGUR STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES
- 1 15- to 16-ounce jar grape leaves (see Notes), drained
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup lemon juice, divided
- 7 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
- 3 tablespoons tahini (see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sumac (optional; see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 19-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed (about 2 cups)
- 3/4 cup bulgur (see Notes)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 4 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Plain yogurt for serving
- Put a large saucepan of water on to boil. Remove grape leaves from the jar and unroll. Separate into two piles—one of whole leaves and one with any torn leaves or pieces of leaves. The whole leaves will be used for rolling. Set aside the others for Step 5.
- Cook the whole grape leaves in the boiling water for 5 minutes; transfer with tongs to a colander to drain.
- To prepare filling: Process lemon zest and 1/4 cup juice, garlic, tahini, oil, sumac (if using), pepper and salt in a food processor until smooth. Scrape into a large bowl. Pulse chickpeas in the food processor until coarsely chopped. Add to the lemon mixture along with bulgur, parsley and scallions; mix until well combined.
- To assemble grape leaves: Lay a clean kitchen towel on a work surface. Place 4 to 6 whole grape leaves at a time on the towel with the stem-side up and stem end pointing toward you. Pinch or trim off any long or tough stems. Depending on the size of the leaf, shape 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of the filling into a 1 1/2- to 2-inch log and place it on the leaf, perpendicular to the stem end. Roll the end of the leaf over the filling, tuck in the sides and roll tightly into a cigar shape. Repeat with the remaining grape leaves and filling. (You may have filling or grape leaves left over.)
- Place the torn or very small leftover grape leaves in a large saucepan, covering the bottom completely; this will prevent the stuffed leaves from sticking as they cook. (No leftover leaves? See Tip.) Place about half of the stuffed grape leaves in one tight layer in the pan and drizzle with 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Make a second layer of grape leaves on top of the first and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
- Place the largest heatproof plate you have that will fit in the pot on top of the grape leaves. Place a small-to-medium heatproof bowl on top of the plate and fill it three-quarters full with water (this will act as a weight to keep the grape leaves submerged). Add water to the pan until it reaches the rim of the plate.
- Timing: Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the bulgur is tender, adding water as necessary to keep the grape leaves submerged, about 30 minutes. (To check if the bulgur is done, carefully remove the bowl and plate, take out one stuffed grape leaf using a slotted spoon and cut it open.)
- Carefully remove the bowl and plate, then transfer the grape leaves from the water using a slotted spoon. Serve warm with lemon wedges and yogurt for dipping, if desired.
Tips & Notes
- Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate cooked grape leaves for up to 3 days. Reheat with a little water in a skillet or in the microwave. Or freeze uncooked grape leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and finish with Steps 5-8.
- Notes: Jars of grape leaves can be found with other Middle Eastern ingredients in large supermarkets, Middle Eastern markets, natural-foods stores or online at amazon.com. We like the texture and quality of Sadaf, Ziyad, Roland and Yergat brands. If you can only find a 32-ounce jar, you can freeze the leftover leaves in an airtight container for up to 6 months. If you have access to fresh grape leaves, you could harvest your own to use instead. Select medium-size leaves from unsprayed grapevines in late spring or early summer, when they will be at their most tender.
- Tahini is a thick paste of ground sesame seeds. Look for it in large supermarkets in the Middle Eastern section or near other nut butters.
- The tart red berries of the Mediterranean sumac bush add fruity, sour flavor to many regional dishes. Find ground sumac in Middle Eastern markets, specialty food shops and online at penzeys.com.
- Bulgur is made by parboiling, drying and coarsely grinding or cracking wheat berries. Don’t confuse bulgur with cracked wheat, which is just that—cracked wheat. Since the parboiling step is skipped, cracked wheat must be cooked for up to an hour whereas bulgur simply needs a quick soak in hot water for most uses. Look for it in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets, near other grains.
- Tip: If you don’t have any leftover leaves to line the pan, cut a potato into 1/2-inch-thick slices and place in the bottom of the pan to prevent the stuffed leaves from sticking.
- How to Arrange Stuffed Grape Leaves in the Pan: The stuffed grape leaves should be tightly packed in your saucepan to prevent them from floating up and unwrapping during cooking. Working with about half of the stuffed grape leaves, nestle them into your pan in concentric circles, working from the outer edge toward the center. Make a second layer directly on top of the first with the remaining stuffed grape leaves.