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.