Nope, nothing here about hazing or houses; even better, my friends discovered a new Greek restaurant and shared it with me. Its a tiny place just down the hill from my old elementary school. Last time I drove by there it was a meadow housing a few horses. Now it is a strip mall. I am not humming the refrain about paving paradise, however, as this little restaurant was heaven enough for me.
The place is called GreekStop, and if you are *ever* in the north hills of Pittsburgh, I hope you will stop there. Its family-run, and they have not dumbed down the menu. Everything tastes as it should, and the spankopita and keftedes are wonderful and the dolmades…. ahhhh! I only wish I’d been able to go back and try all the pastries. Mmmm….
I love stuffed grape leaves. I have eaten them in several countries, with and without tomato sauce, stuffed with lamb, beef, or a mixture, and also vegetarian style… I love them all. I think its one of those “I make these like my mother did and that’s the only “right” way” dishes. My mother, however, never made them, she was too busy stuffing blintzes. That’s a good thing (and another story) though, as I had no preconceived notions about the proper “how-to” of stuffed grape leaves.
I have grape vines (mustang or wild grapes) growing in my yard. Some folks tear them down, something about them choking trees, but I like the way they look. I also like, as I mentioned, stuffed grape leaves. I took a leaf to the extension service, which is a wonderful thing, and the master gardeners told me that yes, I could eat them. So, every spring while the leaves are still tender I grab a few (or a lot), blanch them and stuff them. The grape leaves one buys in glass jars are fine, certainly, but this is fun and right in line with the “and then make soup” lifestyle I try to lead.
The thing about dolmades, like stuffed cabbage or even blintzes for that matter, is that it is a labor-intensive undertaking. The up-side is that one makes a bunch in a batch, and they freeze well (if there are any left over) so its worth it. Its also a fun activity to do with kids or friends. It isn’t *hard*; its just time-consuming.
Basically the steps are: prepare the leaves (either by blanching fresh leaves or rinsing ones from a jar), prepare the filling, stuff, layer, bake/steam, cool and enjoy. Here’s my recipe for one of the meat fillings I like.
1 lb ground lamb
1 C rice (uncooked)
1 onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, chopped very fine
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 T fresh dill, chopped
1 t cinnamon
1/2 C cup zante or other small currents
1/2 C toasted pine nuts (optional, but wonderful)
1 egg (optional)
Mix all ingredients well, put a dab in each grape leaf and roll loosely, like a burrito or a blintze, depending on your life-experience (ie: roll up from the bottom, tuck in the sides and finish rolling). Do *not* roll tightly, as the rice and currents will expand as the grape leaves cook!
Layer the rolled leaves in an oven proof glass or enameled dish, seam side down, add enough boiling (or at least very hot) water to come half-way up the first layer of leaves, squeeze lemon juice over the top, cover tightly with foil and bake at 360 for 1 hour. Check (carefully – mind the steam!!) to see if more water is required, add if necessary, recover with foil and bake/steam one half hour more.
Remove from the oven, squeeze the other half of the lemon over the leaves, and cover loosely with foil. Let cool, and enjoy warm or cold, with or without tzaziki, and freeze some if you want to.
Καλή όρεξη! (Kalí óreksi!)
or as we say in Texas, bon appetit!