Stuff it Up Your Grape Leaves! (A Happy Tale)

Since I was filling up at my usual gas station, I dashed across the street to my favorite Arabic food store. I had decided to buy some licorice ramsy* for LifeOnWry to help ease her licorice cravings. After chatting with the owner’s daughter and rejoicing with her over Saddam’s downfall, I exited the store only to encounter the owner on his way in. He was carrying a platter of dolmades and promptly offered me a taste. I popped one into my and was greeted by an explosion of delightful flavors. Perfectly cooked rice redolent with olive oil and vinegared lemon juice provided a perfect riposte to the faintly bitter grape leaf enfolding it. I turned on my heel and dashed back into the store demanding the recipe and threatening to bring a gun if that would help matters any. The daughter, whose lunch it was, laughingly offered me another irresistable morsel which I promptly bolted then cheerfully promised to transcribe the recipe for me.

Off I drove to a business appointment with a new client. While I was there, some of the principal movers and shakers informed me how they are so impressed with our work that they’re going to bring us in with some even larger corporations. My partner arrived a while later and reviewed the organizational work I had done. He took me aside and informed me that he was basically going to double my commission for this job. Another one of the clients then handed me a page which listed items that will probably double our total cash intake on this project.

Leaving the customer’s site, I dashed off to the bank and then hit my favorite Japanese market on the way home. I selected a sushi nigiri plate and two little slabs of truly fine hamachi sashimi. I also stocked up on my favorite Kikkoman Sashimi Shoyu, Hime organic wasabi powder and topped off my purchase with a Japanese Orion lager. Leaving the market, I headed for the freeway onramp. It was close to rush hour and things were getting pretty crowded. The ramp starts out with three lanes that quickly collapse into two. In my rearview mirror I could see a BMW driver squeeze past several cars so she could save fifteen microseconds of her time by cutting into line. I pulled my car over to straddle the two lanes thereby preventing her from cheating anyone else.

Just before the metering light gave me the go-ahead, I heard a muffled thump behind me. The pickup truck following me pulled aside to reveal the crumpled front end of the BMW, whose driver was so busy talking on her cell phone that she rolled into the vehicle ahead of her. Guffawing out loud, I proceeded home to enjoy some of the best take away sushi I’d had in months. Later than night, the Victorian duplex I live in was filled with beautiful clarinet music played by my new neighbor, the music major.

*An excellent Arabic licorice tea.

Zen, you certainly are a culinary man of the world!

Congrats on the great news of your job that has to feel really great to be recognized for doing a job well done.

Thanks for sharing the goodness in life!

You know, you had me smiling until I read the part about you being happy at the crunching of the BMW. Sure, she was foolish and careless to be talking on the phone while driving. But to feel good just because she feels bad, that’s sad.What if people had been hurt, would you still feel that life is good?

Congrats, Zenster. (And I agree with you about the expressway on-ramp merge cheaters. I do the lane straddle, too.)

Baker, it’s called schadenfreude and while it’s really NOT nice, there is something to be said for seeing someone obnoxious getting his or her just desserts.

Besides, Zenster was buying tea for ME, so he’s automatically forgiven for any uncharitable thoughts.

(Mmmm… licorice…)

Baker, I should hope you know me well enough to already have the answer. All the traffic was moving at ~5 MPH. If someone would have been injured I would have parked my car and gone to assist them. Yes, even the rude moron in the BMW. I do not avidly hope for the injury of other strangers. However, impolite and inattentive drivers managing to screw themselves over in the process of cheating other people will always get a howl out of me.

PS: Baker, I’d like to toss a heart felt “thank you” in your direction. The contribution you sent to the Chubb’s The Cat fund resulted in my own meeting of Aloha Aloha, from the Santa Clara County Animal Protection organization. She and I have been dear and fast friends ever since. I cooked her dinner just last weekend. Funny how things seem to work out.

PPS: The package went out today, Life.

I simply adore dolmades. Unfortunately, I can only find canned ones in town, not fresh. I wonder if you would mind sharing that recipe?

I always take them for lunch, and I get the weirdest looks when I eat them. I always offer to share, but thus far, the response from my friends has been, how shall we say, tepid?

I would love to try and make some myself. If they are good from a can, they must be heavenly when freshly made.

This recipe will be posted to Volume II of the Ultimate Recipe Thread the moment I get it. Keep an eye out.

These were quite simply the finest I have ever had. The rice was seasoned just so and the tang of the lemon juice balanced the unctuous olive oil perfectly. I was stunned by their quality.

Cool beans! Thanks Zenster

And quit with the descriptions, would ya?

Yer makin’ me hungry!

Can you explain this further? Because it sounds to me like you’re impeding traffic that’s moving legally. If you’re blocking someone who is driving outside the solid white line, that’s one thing. If you’re simply moving over to straddle the dashed white line, then I might have an entirely different, and uncharitable, opinion of your maneuver.

Unca Beer, my car was located at the place where striping between the two lanes end. Had I remained to the left, this person would have gone past me on the right (well past the collapse of the third lane) to lock up the traffic further ahead even worse. I merely obliged her to merge in a legal and conscientious fashion (much to her dismay).

Here you go Penguin:

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Preparation time: 2 Hours
Serves: 6-8 People



2 Cups Uncooked long grain white rice
1 Lb. Ground beef or lamb
6 Oz Tin tomato paste (small)
1 Tsp - 1 Tbs Crushed dried mint leaves
1 Tsp Salt (to taste)
½ Tsp Ground allspice
½ Tsp Ground black pepper


5 Cloves of crushed or minced garlic
¼-½ Cup Lemon juice (1-2 Lemons)
1 Tbs Tomato paste
¼-½ Tbs Salt (to taste)
¼-½ Tsp Crushed dried mint leaves
Additional Ingredients:

1 Lb. Jar of prepared grape leaves
5-15 Cloves whole garlic

Mix all items listed under ‘Filling’ together in a large bowl. Crumble meat finely while adding to other ingredients. Blend completely to avoid any pockets of rice or meat. For more intense flavor, do this ahead of time and let rest for one or two hours.

Pour out the prepared grape leaves into a large bowl. Place a waxed paper covered cutting board in front of you. Lay out one of the grape leaves with the stem pointing towards you. The leaf should be heart-shaped when laid out flat. Avoid any folds or wrinkles in the leaf.

Gently dole out one heaping teaspoon of the seasoned rice and meat filling onto the grape leaf. Position the filling so that it forms a one inch long, small log ~½ -¾ of an inch above where the stem attaches to the leaf. Carefully fold the right and left sides of the leaf over most of the filling. Gently roll up the folded leaf into a short cigar shape. The final size should be ½-¾" in diameter and 1½-2" long. Place the finished dolma seam side down onto a waxed paper covered platter.

Continue folding the dolmas until you have used all of the grape leaves or the filling. Spare filling can be used to stuff baked tomatoes, peppers or cabbage leaves for another wonderful side dish. If you wish to stuff peppers with the mixture, the traditional long red pepper is recommended over the usual green bell pepper. If the pepper’s stem becomes detached or is not usable, stuff a single grape leaf into the top to seal it.

Traditional preparation suggests having a layer of short ribs or other bony cut of meat at the bottom of the pot. The dolmas must be kept away from the flame so that they do not scorch or overcook. Another method is to use a flat sort of perforated vegetable steamer specific to Middle Eastern cooking. A regular folding steamer may be used but it must be the type where the central lifting post may be unscrewed.

Put any meat at the very bottom of a medium sized pot. When fully assembled the liquid must cover all of the dolmas. Settle the steamer onto the layer of meat ensuring it is stable and level. Lay down closely packed rows of dolmas on the steamer with their seams facing down to prevent any unraveling. Sprinkle whole cloves of garlic over each layer before adding more dolmas on top. Continue until all the dolmas are stacked together closely. Find a flat plate of the correct diameter and place it over the layers of dolmas to press them into shape. A small pot of water or oven-proof container may be used as a weight.

In a separate bowl, mix together all ingredients on the ‘Broth’ list. Add a cup or two of water to thin the mixture. Taste for salt, remembering that there is also salt in the meat and rice mixture. Pour this liquid into the pot. Add enough extra liquid to cover the dolmas with ¼ -½" of water. Ensure the pressing weight is stable and cover the pot tightly. Bring the pot to a low simmer. Do not boil! Anything more than a simmer will unravel the grape leaves and turn everything into mush.

Note: I would like to give personal thanks to Mary Samaan and her husband Samaan Samaan plus their daughter Salam. They run the wonderful Middle East Foods store (26 Washington Street, Santa Clara) in my neighborhood. If you are in the Silicon Valley area, this is a treasure house of Arabic delights. They have fresh baked pita delivered every day, Ethiopian injera flat bread, French and Bulgarian feta cheese and the fabulous Lebne yoghourt.

Advisory: Please be aware that this recipe has not been tested by myself and may need some fine tuning. This entire preparation was described to me as I furiously took notes. You will want to adjust such things as the garlic, salt and especially the mint. I dislike mint but my first batch will be true to the recipe. The mint flavor in the finished product I tasted was subtle and I would not dream of changing anything until I have first tried the original method. Quite simply, these were the finest dolmas I have had in my entire life. I look forward to making this recipe. It will become a treasured part of my home’s cuisine.

Please contribute a recipe and come back soon!


Couple of point on *dolmades, * of which I am a huge fan:

Anyone in the Chicago area can stock up on the ingredients at the Middle East Bakery, on Foster Ave. just west of Clark St. They have lots and lots of really yummy things, and the baked goods are mostly made on the premises: several varieties of pita , lavash, baklava, and other flatbreads, etc. baked throughout the day, several varieties of feta, tahini, olives of all possible colors, plus scrumptious spinach pies, egglant pies, various canned/dried Middle Eastern groceries…the owners know me by name! (They are 2 blocks from my apartment.)

Lesson #1 for making dolmades: prepare to spend a really long time, especially if it’s your first time and you’re not so fast at rolling them up. Or even better, have your friends and family help you, or it will take bloody forever. I made the mistake of promising to bring some to a baby shower, never having made them befrore; I thought I could whip up a batch before going out for the evening. 3 hours later, I was still rolling the darn things. But the result was well worth it!

Oh wow. Thank you very much Zenster. I shall use this recipe for good and not evil, I promise.

Seriously though, this looks awesome (and somewhat intimidating). I just finished talking with my dad, and were going to try this recipe out some time in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

I’ll post a recipe in the recipe thread as soon as I can find my recipe cards. I’m thinking a good all around recipe for bannock. It’s quick, easy stick to your ribs food, and excellent with some butter and honey. Wonderful when made for breakfast or dinner, especially when camping.
And on preview, thank you as well for your input Eva Luna.