Mezze, tapas, finger food. All words describing small plates of food on a table for sharing. What happened to the word ‘smorgasbord’ meaning a meal with many different foods placed out to share?
Or am I showing my age?
Mezze is a selection of small dishes served in Greece, Turkey and middle eastern countries.
Tapas are Spain’s appetizers and are eaten anytime of the day or night.
Any way you say it, I love having the option of variety. Putting out cut up vegetables, pita, hummus and other spreads are a regular occurrence in my home. Dolmas, seasoned rice stuffed grape leaves are a wonderful addition to a middle eastern spread. Although I usually buy a tin of these, I have made them a couple times.
I ran across an article in the Washington Post called ‘How my Year of Using Everything Up has made me a better cook and thought, what a great idea. I had bought a whole jar of grape leaves, made the dolmas ‘cigars’ but there must have been a million more leaves to use up in that jar! Okay, maybe not a million but a lot were still left.
Grape leaves are available packed in brine, in bottles in my middle eastern supermarket. The leaves need to be rinsed with boiling water and separated and each leaf makes one dolmas cigar. If you like a challenge and have a lot of time on your hands, it certainly is a satisfying experience to create your own. I like to try every technique at least once in my kitchen.
One day I was thinking, why not make it like a lasagna and cut it up into squares? I shared Sushi Lasagna with you back in December 2013 — why not try it with a rice filling and grape leaves? I had that jar of grape leaves sitting in the back of my fridge, and the article in the Washington Post said to start using up stuff and here was my chance.
Back to the first Ottolenghi cookbook, I chose a rice stuffing that was filled with an aromatic combination of onion, currants pine nuts, parsley, lemon juice and short-grain rice. A wonderful blend of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, dried mint, salt and pepper enhanced the flavour. (There are many variations on the filling, rice always being a constant. I like to stick to vegetarian but there are meat filled versions also).
I sautéed the chopped onion, added the rice, stirred for a couple more minutes and added the rest of the ingredients. Poured in 2 cups of water, brought to a boil, put on a lid and then simmered for 35 minutes until the rice was cooked. (I used short grain rice as noted in the cookbook because I had it available. If you use 1 cup of regular long grain or basmati white rice, 1 1/2 cups of water will be sufficient and simmered for 20 minutes.)
Spread over 1/3 of the filling. Repeat with another layer of leaves, another 1/3 of filling. One more time and lastly, a final layer of leaves and fold the overhang over the top.Baste some olive oil and lemon juice over the top and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for about 30 minutes When the top looks dried out, remove from the oven and baste a little more olive oil and lemon juice and let cool on the counter.I found it firmed up overnight and was even easier to slice the following day. I liked the rustic look of the squares, served with lemon wedges. And the texture of the leaves and filling are delicious.
Time to look in my fridge and pantry and see what to use up next.
recipe for the rice filling from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup short-grain rice
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 1/2 tbsp. dried currents
2 tbsp. pine nuts
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. dried mint
1/2 tsp salt and a sprinkling of black pepper
2 cups water
2 tbsp. each of lemon juice and olive oil for basting
lemon wedges, for garnish
about 40 grape leaves (you might have some left over, depending on the size of your casserole dish)
- Sauté the onion in the olive oil until transparent but not brown. Add the rice and coat for two minutes and then add rest of ingredients and mix. Pour in the 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, cover and let simmer for 35 minutes.
- While the filling is simmering, place the grape leaves in a bowl and pour boiling water on top to remove the brine. Drain the water and let cool.
- Time to build the lasagna. Line a casserole pan with the first layer of leaves. overlapping just enough to cover the bottom – ensuring the sides are also covered and have some overhang remaining. Spread 1/3 of the filling. Repeat 2 more times: layer of leaves, 1/3 filling, last layer of leaves and rest of filling, a final layer of leaves on top. Fold over the overhanging leaves to finish.
- Baste some of the lemon juice/olive oil mixture on top and put in a preheated 350°F oven for about 30 minutes, when the top looks dry.
- Remove from oven and baste one more time with the mixture.
- Let cool before cutting or put into the fridge overnight to let it firm up.
- Cut into squares and serve with lemon wedges.
Note: If you use long grain rice or basmati rice, use 1 cup of rice to 1 1/2 cups of water and simmer for 20 minutes until mixture is soft and cooked through.