The past couple of years, our grape vine has been an excellent producer. It’s been loaded with grapes, which we usually juice, except when our jelly supply gets a little low.
Fresh juice and jelly are just two of the perks of having a grapevine. Another is stuffed grape leaves.
Just recently, I made stuffed grape leaves, which over the years have drawn raves from my friends, family and former co-workers. When combined with tzatziki, a sauce that contains cucumber, Greek yogurt and garlic (among other things) and is found in the cuisines of southeast Europe and the Middle East, the grape leaves are hard to stop eating as long a pot of them is still sitting on the table.
I’ve been making grape leaves for several years. I was first introduced to stuffed grapes by a friend, Ron Taylor, whose mother, Aggie, was Lebanese. (Her maiden name was Salem.) Aggie always made grape leaves at Christmastine, when I would swap Ronnie some turkey and stuffing for some. Years later, Denise Enger, another friend who was half-Lebanese, taught me how to make my own. (Denise’s maiden name Fayette, which had been adopted when her Dad’s family, the Faids, came to this country.)
Another old friend and an aficionado of grape leaves, Ray Pierce, who also had one parent who was Lebanese (his Mom was a Noah), used to say there were two kinds of people in this world: those who were Lebanese and those who wished they were.
Anyone who has tried grape leaves knows what he means.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
40 to 50 tender grape leaves about the size of your palm
3 or 4 flat beef bones
1 16-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup long grain rice, rinsed in water
1 pound ground chuck
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak fresh grape leaves in hot water for 15 minutes to soften. Remove from water, squeeze out excess moisture and remove stems.
While leaves are soaking, mix all the ingredients for the filling. Place 1 tablespoon or so of filling across each leaf. Fold bottom of leaf up, fold both sides in, and roll away from you.
Place bones on the bottom of a deep saucepan or Dutch oven. Arrange stuffed leaves vertically on the top of the bones.
Press leaves down by placing an inverted plate on top of the leaves. (This also will hold them in place while they cook.)
Mix the tomatoes and sauce and pour around the outside edge of the saucepan, using a knife to push stuffed grape leaves aside.
Cover and simmer on a low flame for 40 minutes or until leaves are tender.
Yield: About 40 to 50 grape leaves.
Note: This recipe for stuffed grape leaves is different from the way my Crookston friends make them. Instead of using tomatoes and tomato sauce, they place the leaves in a seasoned broth or water and then steam them.
¾ English cucumber, partially peeled (striped) and sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled, finely grated or minced (you can use less if you prefer)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups Greek yogurt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
In a food processor, grate the cucumbers. Toss with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer over a deep bowl to drain. Spoon the grated cucumber into a cheese cloth or a double thickness napkin and squeeze dry. Set aside briefly.
In one large mixing bowl, place the garlic with remaining ½ teaspoon salt, white vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Mix to combine.
Add the grated cucumber to the large bowl with the garlic mixture. Stir in the yogurt and white pepper. Combine thoroughly. Cover tightly and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
When ready to serve, stir the tzatziki sauce to refresh and transfer to serving bowl, drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil, if you like.
Note: Tzatziki will keep for a few days or more in the refrigerator, but you will need to drain any water and stir each time you use it.