Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Lebanese Vine Leaves

What did the Lebanese Mamma say to the vine leaves growing in her garden?

"Get stuffed!"

And the rest is history.

Before any nation or region tries to claims the origins of this brilliant concept, allow me to say that I adore stuffed vine leaves in its various forms. Don't care who started it! Just glad that it happened. Shout out to the cabbages, onions, capsicums and zucchinis out there. They may not appear in this dish's title, but they hold a special place in my heart/ stomach (same same).

The variation that I'm sharing is, of course, my Tayta's. No surprises, you're in for a whole lot of lemon and garlic. There are plenty of other versions, so if you enjoy this recipe, don't stop here! Try using capsicum paste, pomegranate molasses or change up the stuffing. The possibilities are deliciously endless.

Why share this recipe? Annual Lemon Juicing Day (it's a real thing in my family) just passed. Right when I had 60kg of freshly juiced lemons at my disposal, my colleague delivered the last of her vine leaves to my classroom. It was a sign.

50 vine leaves (fresh or preserved)
3 onions
1 capsicum
2 cups of washed rice (of your own choosing. I prefer basmati)
500g mince lamb
A few lamb chops
1 cup lemon juice (to taste)
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon of baharat (Lebanese 7 Spice)
Boiled water
salt to taste
1) If using fresh vine leaves, place in a bowl and cover with boiled water. Allow to blanch until the colour changes and the leaves are softer to the touch. Drain and cut off stems.

If you do not have an awesome colleague who delivers fresh vine leaves, you can purchase preserved vine leaves from any Mediterranean grocery store. Be sure to wash and soak them in cool water for 15 minutes to an hour. This will remove some of the briny flavour.
2) Peel the onions and make one cut into the core. Microwave for 7 minutes. Peel apart the layers.
3) Hollow a capsicum or any other vegetables that you wish to stuff.

4) Prepare the stuffing by mixing the rice, meat, baharat and some salt (to taste).  Don't be shy. Get those hands dirty! It may appear that the meat to rice ratio is off balance. Rest assured, the rice will expand and the meat will shrink.

5) Start rolling and stuffing, as below. Lebanese friends, judge me all you like. When I visited the Motherland back in 2010, it was a battle of the finest fingers. The smaller and tighter the rolling, the more acclaimed the cook. Sorry Aunties and Mammas, but ain't nobody got time for that!


6) Assemble, starting with lamb chops at the bottom. Try to pack the other ingredients in tightly and place a heavy plate over the top. This will stop the ingredients from moving while boiling.

7) Cover with boiled water, by about 2 centimetres. You can add water throughout the process if it absorbs too quickly. Simmer for 40 minutes, with the lid on.
8) Crush garlic, using salt to create friction. Bring lemon juice to room temperature (if you keep it stored in the refrigerator or freezer).

9) Remove the lid and plate. Cut a vine leaf open to check if the rice is close to being cooked. Add water if necessary. Otherwise, tip the lemon juice in and cover with crushed garlic and salt to taste. Put the plate back on the ingredients and simmer for another 15 minutes.

10) Remove the plate and serve. Don't be concerned if the garlic turns blue :)

As promised, the meat the rice ratio is juuuust right after cooking.

And would you look at those chops...

If you ask me, it tastes even better the next day after soaking up all of the lemony goodness . Perfect for lunch boxes. Just reheat and eat.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Lemon and Garlic Chicken Soup

Whenever I caught a cold my Jedo would always say that I needed to drink Araq (Lebanese moonshine) and eat more lemon and garlic. The great man lived for 96 years. He knew his stuff. 

Now, I can't reveal his Araq recipe, but I can share a tip or two about cooking with lemon and garlic. Lemon contains a significant amount of Vitamin C, and garlic has been used as a natural antibiotic for centuries. It's used in a variety of Lebanese recipe bases. As the cold and flu season rears its ugly head, it makes perfect sense to get this traditional soup on the stove. In my grandparents' village in Lebanon (Rachine) the name of this dish translates to 'Potato with Lemon and Garlic'. That's right, no mention of chicken. It's all about that base. 

A word of advice. If you want to keep up with the lemon needs in my family, buy boxes of lemons when they're in season. Squeeze, jar, freeze.

Another word of advice. Get to Flemington Markets before my family. No lemon will be left behind.

1 whole chicken 
1/2 kg potatoes
6 cloves of garlic
2 tsp salt
300mL lemon juice
2L water
Olive oil for frying
Salt to taste

The awesome foursome that make this dish magical

1) Butcher the chicken into smaller pieces, leaving the skin on. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters. You may wish to peel the potatoes, but I like to take advantage of all the goodness in the skins.

2) Brown the chicken and potatoes in a lightly oiled pan.

3) Flip the chicken and potatoes, ensuring that all sides are browned.

4) Crush the cloves of garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle. Adding the salt at this stage creates friction, turning the garlic into a fine paste.

5) Boil the water in a large stockpot and add the crushed garlic to it. Place the cooked chicken and potatoes to the pot. Allow to boil for 15 to 20 minutes.

6) If you do not have frozen jars of lemon juice handy (seriously, why not?) squeeze fresh lemons. For 300 mL, you will need about 5 medium lemons.

7) Add the lemon juice to the boiling stockpot, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Salt to taste, then serve!

For the fussier eaters out there, you may wish to remove the chicken from the bone, or even swap the whole chicken for fillets. You won't get the same full bodied stock, but it will do the job!

Whether you need a rescue remedy, or you just love lemon, sahtein!