Grape Leaf Suppers
To walk the canyon in early Summer is to saunter through waves of the most beguiling scent I’ve ever known– the grape vines are flowering! It comes at me from a distance, just a hint of sweetness, then it grows and grows until it I am completely drunk on grapeflower. I lean against the rocks under their vines, surrendering moment upon moment… forgetting all the things I have to do, and deciding that picking grape leaves for supper is at least as important as any of them. Now the grape flowers have become fruits– the little grapes are swelling with the wonderfully welcome monsoon rains! And the grape leaves are still perfect for picking.
There’s not many foods that don’t take kindly to being wrapped about in a grape leaf. It’s refreshing to realize that we don’t need bread products to have the fun experience of piling complementary foods together and eating them with our hands, as in a sandwich, or a burrito. The extra fun of stuffing your own grape leaves is that every single leaf can be filled differently! Their tartness perfectly complements rich meat dishes or simply grilled steak or chicken, baked yams, hummus and other bean dishes, creamy nettle dip, even simply steamed or sauteed vegetables, especially mixed with any of the above. They’re also wonderful wrapped around certain fresh vegetables, especially fresh red peppers, with a bit of cheese and/or an olive and a bit of pesto. One of my favorite ways to serve supper this time of year is to arrange a beautiful, large platter of different foods, sometimes all of them cold, if it is a very hot day. I go through the pantry and coolers and find whatever scrumptious little treats and leftovers might be hiding in there, and slice up some fresh things, and decorate the whole creation with little piles of fresh grape leaves. Their bright green is so beautiful with all the other colors, it’s enough to make me hungry even when it’s almost too hot to think about eating! It’s beyond fun to take each leaf and fill it with any assortment of mouth-watering yummies! Don’t forget to admire each one before you eat them! We also have a lot of fun informing each other of particularly good bites. Suppertime conversation often goes like this, “Oh, I just had the best thing! It was a bit of yam, with some goat cheese, preserved lemon and some olive paste, and a bit of that elk!” “Oh, I have to try it!” “Did you try the roasted garlic with the chard and some eggplant yet?” “Yeah, it’s even better if you put a little hummus in there.”
If you don’t have lots of lovely little treats hiding in your pantry this time of year, you can go to the natural foods deli and get some olives and smoked meats, and marinated things, and delicious cheeses. But here are also some very easy dishes or condiments for you to consider having around for a inspiring summertime grape leaf feast! Some of them do require using an oven, which I suggest either doing in the morning if you have cool mornings where you are, or using a solar oven, which I am most likely to do whenever it’s not cloudy. I also tend to cook any sauteed dishes in the morning, whenever I can make the time.
Gingered Eggplant Relish
Wild herb (or basil) Pesto (see recipe in a previous blog)
Elk with Grape leaves
Simple Sauteed Kale with Lemony Leeks
Fresh Corn and Nettle Saute
What a delight it is, to squeeze tender roasted garlic cloves from their papery shells and add this magic substance to just about any meat or vegetable or bread-like treat. If you use a homemade chicken broth with plenty of fat to roast it in, you won’t need to add any olive oil to the pan. But it will come out delicious either way you choose to make it, as long as it has just enough time in the oven.
To Roast Garlic in an Oven:
Several heads of Garlic (4-6, depending on size)
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or rosemary oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch or two of thyme
Place the whole garlic heads in an 8 inch pan. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan, and swish the pan around a bit to mix things around. Place in about a 350 degree oven for about 60-90 minutes, or until the garlic cloves have darkened and shrunk a bit, and are quite soft when you squeeze or poke at them.
coming soon– how to roast garlic in an open fire!
Baked Tamari Tofu
You can buy good packaged baked tofu at any whole foods store, but it’s much more fun to make your own. This home baked tofu is so irresistible that I have a hard time not devouring the entire batch as it first comes out of the oven. If I hope to share any with Kiva and Rhiannon, I make sure to double the quantities.
8 oz. package raw tofu, firm or extra firm
1/3 cup tamari
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger, minced
4 or more cloves garlic, minced
Slice the tofu into 1/2” pieces. Put the tamari, ginger and garlic in a wide shallow bowl, or a loaf pan, letting it soak for at least a half an hour, turning once. Preheat the oven to 375˚. Remove the tofu from the marinade and arrange the slices on a greased pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, watching carefully and rotating the pan if needed. The slices will shrink and firm up considerably, but should still be moist inside. Enjoy straight from the oven, as a garnish on soup, pasta, or rice, or as party to my Udon Noodles With Tofu and Peanut Sauce (see p. ?).
Gingered Eggplant Relish
This one’s great so many ways, with chicken or fish, in burritos, on polenta, in sandwiches, mixed into scrambled eggs and on and on! I’ve made many variations on this theme, but the onion, ginger and garlic are always a constant. I suggest that you try it without the dill and coriander before you try it with…. it’s so good both ways! I love eggplant so much, it’s always on my list when someone offers to bring me treats from the city.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (or butter)
1 medium eggplant
1 large onion
6 medium-large cloves garlic
2-4 tablespoons minced grated fresh ginger (to taste)
1 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
1 tsp dried dill (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Chop the onion into small pieces and cook with the grated minced ginger, in a skillet until halfway tender in the olive oil. Chop the eggplant while the onion is cooking, in chunks a little bigger than the onion pieces. Add the eggplant, and stir as often as you can while you are mincing the garlic. Add the garlic, and the dill and coriander if you like, and stir frequently until everything is tender but not mushy. Do you have any homemade sesame crackers around? I hope so! If not, you’d better try it immediately on some good bread!
Delphi Grilled Chicken
What evokes summertime more than lemony grilled chicken, redolent with fresh herbs? With fresh corn-on-the-cob and a big Greek salad, this is the perfect meal for clan get-togethers on those sultry Summer evenings. I like to put on some extra sticks of juniper on the campfire where we grilled, to delight the kids and light up the faces of our friends.
We prefer dark meat, as it’s more flavorful and juicy, so we often buy packages of nothing but thighs. If not, we purchase a whole chicken that I cut up into quarters. The chicken soaks in the marinade overnight, which is also used to baste the bird during cooking. Served as is and hot, or mixed with some plain yogurt or sour cream, it makes a scrumptious sauce!
1 whole chicken, or 6 thighs, rinsed in cold water
Lemon Rosemary-Thyme Marinade:
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup canola or olive oil
2 tablespoons honey, warmed (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, (or 1 tsp. dried, ground in a mortar)
6-10 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Mix up the marinade in a nonmetal bowl large enough for the chicken to fit comfortably. Combine all ingredients with a whisk or a fork, put the washed chicken in the bowl and bathe it with your hands in the marinade. Cover the bowl with a plate and put in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours, turning at least once. Remove chicken from marinade and grill 4-6 inches above medium coals, turning as needed, for 30-40 minutes or until the juices run clear when a knife is poked in close to the bone. Careful not to overcook it!
•Spicy Caribbean Marinade
Omit rosemary, increase honey to 4 tablespoons, add 2 jalepenos, seeded and minced finely, plus 1/4 teaspoon each of ground allspice and nutmeg.
Substitute the juice of half an orange and one lime for the lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro for the herbs. Add 2 teaspoons ground chile powder and 1 teaspoon cumin.
•Sesame Ginger Marinade
Instead of the herbs, substitute 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger and add 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil. Add up to a teaspoon of cayenne if you happen to like it spicy.
Elk and Grape Leaf Stew
Mediterranean flavors complement stewed elk meat in this earthy, hearty dish. I like to serve this with a salad or a simple dish of sauteed greens or green beans. It’s also lovely on corn tortillas or any flatbread, with scrambled eggs, or even as a simple snack, served cold with some fresh grape leaves or other greens suitable for stuffing. Try it with some Red Chile or Paprika Sauce and homemade piima cream for an extra special treat! And do be sure to try it with the fresh mint or pickled mint garnish– it’s sooo good! If you can’t get elk meat, both buffalo and lamb would be worthy substitutes.
1 lb. elk stew meat (or 2 pint jars Home Canned Elk)
1 onion, diced, sauteed in 1-2 tablespoons butter till golden
3 cloves garlic, minced, sauteed with the onion
1 1/2 cups chopped grape leaves, fresh or preserved
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika or Aleppo pepper
1/3 cup sesame seeds, toasted in a skillet
1/3 cup Homemade Olive Paste, or chopped kalamata olives
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, or 1/4 cup chopped pickled mint leaves
Simply pour apple cider vinegar over whatever amount of fresh mint you can get into a jar. Be sure to cover the mint completely. Ready to serve after 1-2 days.
If starting out with fresh elk meat, cut into small pieces, heat a skillet to medium-high and brown in a tablespoon or two of butter. Place in a medium sized pot, barely cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender, usually about two hours.
If starting out with Home Canned Elk, simply empty the contents of 2 pint jars elk meat and broth into a medium sized pot. Add the rest of the ingredients except the mint, and simmer until the grape leaves are tender. Time will vary depending on the thickness of the grape leaves, usually somewhere between 20-45 minutes. Garnish with the chopped mint leaves before serving.
(Excerpted from Loba’s upcoming cookbook — Share freely so long as credited)