It’s hard to be enthusiastic neck deep in summer. The heat stifles my reactions and zaps me of energy. The effect is accumulative. Nobody is complaining about one hot day.
From now until October, there are going to be rivulets of sweat trickling down my back every time I step outside. This seems like an infinite number of days from where I stand.
But there is a good side to this weather. The figs adore it. The bougainvillea seems to luxuriate in the dense tropical air even without water. Capers continue their steady growth, impervious to the rise in temperatures. Grapes send out new tendrils as everything else becomes limp and desiccated.
At the outdoor markets, from Ramle to Nazareth, large piles of grape leaves are offered for sale. They also grow wild near water sources, bright green against the parched earth. These are one of the few plants that can be foraged during the long simmering days of summer.
Syrian Style Stuffed Grape Leaves
Al Hashulhan, Israel’s foremost culinary magazine, was founded in 1991 by Janna Gur and her husband, Ilan. This periodical appears once a month and focuses mainly on Israel’s food culture, whether new creations from high profile chefs or ethnic foods from the country’s diverse society. It is the Hebrew version of Saveur magazine, highlighting the regions unique offerings by professionals and home cooks alike. Janna Gur, the chief editor of this magazine, has expanded the business to include a website, numerous cookbooks and iphone apps to make Israeli food accessible to everyone.
The 2011 April issue was dedicated to Passover foods and included an article by Abigail Cohen about holiday foods made by her Syrian grandparents. With the abundance of grape leaves of the season I decided to try her grandmother’s, Emma’s, stuffed grape leaves. Syrian cuisine is the commonality of all those that live or once lived in this area, whether Christians, Muslims or Jews.
About 60-70 medium sized fresh grape leaves or equivalent amount of preserved leaves
4-7 carrots, cut into rounds. It should be enough to cover the bottom of a medium sized pot
Juice from one lemon
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons dried mint
4 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups round rice
150 grams ground meat
1 teaspoons Syrian baharat (see below)
1/2 teaspoons black pepper mix (see below)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, I used olive oil
The leaves: Clean and rinse the grape leaves. If they are fresh, parboil them until they change color. If they are preserved in salt water, rinse them well. Set aside.
In a pot put the rice, 2 tablespoons of oil and ¼ cup water. Heat on low for 5-6 minutes until the water is absorbed by the rice and no liquid remains. Add the remaining ingredients for the filling and combine.
Combine the lemon juice, sugar, salt, crushed garlic, olive oil and mint. Set aside.
Stuffing the grape leaves
Stuff the grape leaves: Place leaves shiny side down on a flat surface, put a bit of filling on the leaf close to the stem, fold the sides over and then carefully roll the leaf, tucking the sides in to create a cigar shape. Arrange the grape leaves in a carrot lined pot seam facing down. The leaves should fit snugly together to inhibit them from floating when covered with sauce. Tuck the any extra carrots between the rolls.
Pour the sauce over the leaves and add just enough water to cover the leaves. Use a plate to keep the leaves in place, boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for another 30-40 minutes, let stand at least 1 hour covered, before serving. If the grape leaves are swimming in liquid, uncover the pot and reduce. If the rice is still hard, continue cooking, adding more water if necessary. The rolls taste better the following day when the flavors have a chance to meld.
Black pepper mix:
Grind together 100 grams black pepper, 50 grams cumin seeds and 6 cardamom pods. Store in the freezer.
Grind together 3 whole nutmeg nuts with 100 grams of allspice. Store in the freezer.
Syrian food blogs I recommend:
Simply Heaven Food (Afaf stopped blogging but it’s worth a visit for the lovely collection of Syrian recipes she has compiled)