Every cook has his or her favorite collection of dog-eared, grease-spattered cook books. Much as we love the internet and the convenience of finding recipes there, we find ourselves returning again and again to our old friends on the kitchen bookshelf. For Middle Eastern cooking, the Captain favors Yasmine Betar’s mid-20th century book Finest Recipes from the Middle East (you can read a bit about the book here). He has taken her recipe for stuffed grape leaves and changed it a bit – here is his version.
3/4 Cup white large grain rice
1 lb. ground lamb (either buy it ground or ‘grind’ your own in the food processor)
1 sliced tomato
1/2 onion sliced
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
Salt–to taste (the original calls for 1 TBL which seems excessive for current tastes)
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
2-3 Cups hot chicken broth
20 young grape leaves, more or less
Soak the rice for ten minutes. Line the bottom of a deep oven-proof casserole with the sliced tomatoes and onion.
Meanwhile drop the grape leaves briefly in boiling salted water and remove after about 4 minutes of cooking.
Drain the rice and mix with the lamb, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper.
Roll about one tablespoon or a bit more in each grape leaf (the amount varies depending on the size of the leaves), using the back of the grape leaf. Take one turn forward from the bottom of the leaf over the filling, then fold in the sides. Continue by rolling forward, making a fairly tight cylinder.
Place the rolls evenly in layers in the casserole such that the stuffed leaves won’t unfold. Place a plate on top of the folded leaves to hold them down and prevent unrolling. Then pour the hot broth in so that it extends 1/4 inch above the grapeleaves.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Snake one out and taste for doneness. Uncover, add the lemon juice and recover and cook for five more minutes.
Remove with a slotted spoon and serve with plain yoghurt or avgolemono sauce
According to Yasmine Betar “the grape leaf is the food of the blessed.” No wonder Italy is such a splendid country!