Monday, February 15, 2010

Barley- and mint-stuffed grape leaves

Happy Valentine's Day, Chinese Lunar New Year, or whatever you're celebrating. I'm single and not Chinese, so I'm celebrating our local Alberta holiday, intriguingly called "Family Day." I spent it with my little family, Cheeta and Isabeau, very happily, since it was a surprising, unseasonably warm day in which, though there are still two feet of snow on the ground, I was able to sit (dressed in black to attract heat) in my special protected sunny spot on the patio, absorbing the February rays, while Cheeta and Isabeau frolicked about in the way that elderly cats do, sitting on my lap and/or blinking irritably at the bright sunlight and/or lapping up melted snow from the arms of the other lawn chair.

So I was doing that, and finishing up some good books, and listening to some great lectures from iTunes U and in the intervals putting together this lovely meal and altogether having an excellent time. I ate early because I couldn't wait, and man, was this meal fantastic. Most of it was quite simple, but the least simple part was this recipe, somewhat simplified from here. Usually recipes from this site are gathered up from the newsgroup and often not given their proper accreditation, so if you know the source, please comment and I'll add it in:

Barley- and mint-stuffed grape leaves

24 grape leaves, thoroughly rinsed in warm water
2 1/2 cups cooked barley (about 2/3 cup raw)
1/3 cup very finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, dill, or oregano
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or to taste)
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Approximately 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock

Combine the barley, onion, garlic, mint, lemon juice, olive oil and pine nuts or walnuts (if using), salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl and mix well. Correct the seasoning, adding salt or lemon juice to taste: the mixture should be highly seasoned.

Rinse the grape leaves several times in warm water. You can leave them soaking in warm water, picking them out one by one as needed, while you fill and roll them.

Lay a grape leaf on your work surface, stem end toward you. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in a row along the bottom third of the leaf. Roll up the leaf to form a tight cylinder, folding in the side flaps halfway up. Assemble the remaining grape leaves the same way. The grape leaves can be assembled several hours ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Here some of them are, assembled:
Place the stuffed grape leaves in a nonreactive baking dish with 1/2 inch vegetable stock. Cover the pan with foil. Bake the grape leaves for 30-40 minutes, or until tender. Drain off any extra cooking liquid before serving. This dish is great hot, warm, or cold, with lemon-garlic dressing (below).

I'm used to making stuffed grape leaves "the Greek way," which means instead of baking them in the oven with vegetable stock, you cook them in a dutch oven on the stove in a sauce that is like a vinaigrette composed mainly of olive oil and lemon juice. It was nice to try them this other way and discover that they are still delicious—the smell while they are baking will transport you straight to paradise—without ending up with a caramelized product that's so far beyond delicious because of its enormous fat content that you just can't stop inhaling them no matter how full you are until they are all gone and you are feeling rather sick but still ready for more if by chance you missed one or there's a leftover on somebody else's plate or something black burnt onto the bottom of the pot…well, enough of that. These are definitely good enough.

Lemon-garlic dressing
1/2 pound silken or soft tofu
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 to 3 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2/3 cups vegetable stock or water
2 to 4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon miso (optional)

Combine the tofu, lemon juice, zest, vegetable stock, garlic, pepper, salt, oil, and miso in a blender and puree until smooth. Thin the dressing to the desired consistency with additional stock or water, if needed. Correct the seasoning, adding lemon juice, garlic, or salt to taste. I also added some grated and squeezed cucumber to make a kind of tzatziki.

So this was served with some green beans boiled until just tender and then tossed with a mixture of Veganaise and pressed garlic; black beans cooked with onions, garlic, lemon juice and zest, red pepper flakes, cumin, and salt and pepper; and homemade pita. Oh, my. I still ate way too much. But it was so good.


  1. Sounds like a lovely way to spend your holiday. The food looks enticing...and those grape leaves look perfect. Yum...thanks for the recipes.

  2. Hello Zoa,

    Its my first visit to your bkog. I've come over via Rose's blog (above). I love the idea of barley in grape leaves.