It's that time again - time for the Daring Cooks Challenge! Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
I have to admit... when I first read this challenge, I was a bit unsure as to how I felt. I love being challenged to make things I have never made before, and I love trying recipes from other cultures. But the only time I had stuffed grape leaves before... well... I wasn't a huge fan.
The recipes that Lori shared, however, looked good, and, despite my previous experience with grape leaves, I thought that maybe, being able to make them myself and control the ingredients, I might enjoy them a bit more.
The first challenging aspect of this challenge was actually locating grape leaves to stuff. Lori said that if we could not locate grape leaves easily that we could substitute cabbage, which I began to think I might have to do. After looking
in the International food isles of almost every local supermarket, I finally found jarred grape leaves shelved with the olives.
The second challenge, believe it or not, was actually removing the grape leaves from the jar. They were packed in there so tightly that it took quite a bit of time, patience and twisting to remove them without totally destroying them.
Once the leaves were out of the jar, I set them to soak, first in boiling water and then in cold water, to try to remove the brine in which they were jarred.
While the leaves were soaking, I set to making the filling. The filling is a mix of ground beef, rice (uncooked), onion and a variety of delicious spices. Once all of the ingredients were well combined, it was time let the rolling commence.
I have to say, the grape leaves were really pretty, and I was very encouraged as the rolling process began. I wanted my leaves to be generously stuffed, but had to be careful
not to overfill them to the point of not being able to roll them securely enough. Once I got a rhythm going, though, it went very smoothly, and I was soon ready to load the rolled leaves into my pot.
The cooking process for the leaves was actually quite interested. The rolled leaves were packed as tightly as possible into my stock pot(the widest pot that I have) and covered with additional spices, water and a generous splash of lemon juice. I then placed my second-largest pot lid over the leaves to weigh them down (to try to keep them from floating and unrolling while they cooked) and allowed the pot to simmer for about 45 minutes.
Another aspect of the challenge, at least in our house, was deciding what to serve for dinner with the grape leaves. Knowing that stuffed grape leaves are Greek/Mediterranean in origin, I actually took inspiration from a past Daring Cooks Challenge -the Mezze challenge that I completed in February. I didn't want to assemble a full mezze table the way I had for that challenge, but I did want to incorporate some of the dishes and flavors from that experience. The recipe that I repeated was for pita. Once again, it was a ton of fun to watch the pitas rise in the oven, and the fresh pitas were absolutely delicious.
For dinner, I served the pitas with hummus, chicken grilled with onions and red peppers, sliced cucumbers, and, of course, the stuffed grape leaves. The combination of flavors worked really well, and made for a nice, fresh, Mediterranean presentation.
As for the grape leaves, there was a very mixed reaction to them in our family. Little miss initially refused to taste them. She finally relented and agreed to taste the filling, which she and I both agreed was very flavorful and delicious. Unfortunately, I still wasn't a fan of the leaves themselves. I shared some of these with my in-laws, who I knew were bigger fans of stuffed grape leaves than I. They actually ate them cold, and said that they really enjoyed them. Which made me happy that it really is just the leaves that I am not a fan of, but that I could count the challenge as a success.
I have to say - despite my opinion of the grape leaves themselves, I had a lot of fun with the challenge. Once the leaves were actually out of the jar, they rolled beautifully, cooked nicely, stayed nice and tightly rolled throughout the cooking process, and looked like I'd hoped they would coming out of the pot. Thank you, Lori, for helping me to step a bit out of my comfort zone and try something that I otherwise never would have thought to try. I may just keep this recipe handy, and try it using those cabbage leaves next time, as many of my fellow daring cooks did with tremendous success.
To see the work of the other cooks, check them out here.