Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Vine leaves and vegan virtues

Yesterday was planned as Greek and vegan - my very first Vegan Tuesday. Things didn't quite turn out that way. But I discovered one thing I never knew - the word 'vegan' was coined by the Vegan Society from the beginning and end of the word 'vegetarian', and the Society was formed in the UK in 1944.
I spent quite a while going through all the stuffed vine leaf recipes I have - from Greece, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Egypt. The herbs and spices used vary from region to region: on the Greek islands there are no spices but a herby mix of dill, parsley and mint. On the mainland, pinenuts and raisins enter the equation, and in Turkey and Egypt the spices include cinnamon, allspice and coriander. The Iranians like turmeric in the mix, and the Iraqis include cumin. In the end, my main guide was Middle Eastern food guru Claudia Roden, with her recipe from Egypt, although when I checked later with Ghillie Besan's book, the rice stuffing was very similar. One added touch was some wine-soaked raisins - an idea from Susanna Hoffman. So are these Greek? Probably not.
The Turks and the Egyptians both call these 'lying' or 'false' dolmades, as they don't contain meat, and both countries serve them cold. Which type of rice to use? All types are suggested, but I went with arborio. I didn't pre-soak or cook it, which some authors ask for, so the little babies took longer to cook.

Stuffed vine leaves (loosely based on a Claudia Roden recipe)

250g arborio rice
4 or 5 chopped spring onions or half an onion
1 tbp wine-soaked raisins
2 tbp toasted pine nuts
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
a handful of chopped herbs - I used parsley and mint
salt and pepper
a little olive oil to bind the mixture

20-30 fresh vine leaves
juice of two lemons
150ml olive oil
150ml water
tomatoes or torn vine leaves to line the saucepan, and some peeled garlic cloves to nestle amongst the stuffed leaves

Make your stuffing mix by combining the first nine ingredients. Set aside while you deal with the leaves.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, and plunge in your leaves, five or six at a time. After a few seconds, the verdant green turns to a dull khaki - below you can see the difference between cooked and uncooked.
They'll take about a minute in the water to turn floppy. Haul them out and pop in the next batch. In another saucepan, make a lining of sliced tomato (or torn vine leaves). Now you're ready to start the production line.
The shape you're aiming for is a squat little cigar. Plop a teaspoon of the mix into the middle of the leaf, then start rolling up from the stalk end. Gently fold in the sides and tuck in the top of the leaf. Fit them snugly into the waiting saucepan along with a couple of cloves of garlic.
You should get enough stuffees to make a couple of layers. Now mix the olive oil, lemon juice and water, and pour over the vine leaves.
Find a heat-proof saucer or plate and place on top of the leaves to stop them unravelling as they cook. Bring to a gentle simmer and cover. Mine took a couple of hours to cook through, so haul one out after an hour or so and see if the rice is done. Leave to cool in the pan (yeah, right, and who was it who was snacking on toasty hot vine leaves as soon as she could?).
Serve with the reserved cooking liquor. Here are two of my babies in the beautiful dish that J bought me on Skiathos for my birthday. They do look brown and unappetising, but I can promise you, they are yummy.
Something I adore is finding a new recipe with very frugal ingredients that turns out to be a stonker. I'm beginning to wonder about my passion for food that looks like wallpaper paste, but again, I promise you this is fab. It's a Greek recipe (so no surprise there) called fava skordalia, or split peas with garlic. Doesn't sound that alluring, does it?
This recipe is from Aglaia Kremezi's The Foods of the Greek Islands: take 2 cups of split peas (chana dal if you're near a south asian food supplier) and boil til tender with a couple of bay leaves. Add salt to taste in the final moments of cooking. Whiz in a food processor with 5 garlic cloves - I used some fresh garlic from the lottie. Then slacken the mixture with 7 tbs vinegar (wine or cider) and as much olive oil as you need. I added some chopped fresh coriander but you could include olives or tomatoes or rocket or parsley...the choice is yours.

So that was to be my vegan and almost Greek supper...but oh my, there was spinach in my veggie box, filo pastry in the fridge and a nub of Gruyere...and I failed. I was irresistibly pulled into making a spinach and cheese pie. Must do better next Tuesday.


mangocheeks said...

Good for you for getting involved in Vegan Tuesday, I am just not that disciplined enough. sometimes I don't know whehter it Tuesday or Thursday.

I so admire youfor making your dolmades from scratch. Patience and love! I sould find it difficult to source fresh vine leaves here, so would have to make it with those that have been preserved.

I love what you've done with the channa dal, its one of my comfort foods as dal served with basmati rice, but I must try what you've done with it. It looks really good.

fran39 said...

The vine leaves aren't something I'd do very often, Mango -as you say, it's a labour of love. But they are so delicious, and keep well for lunchboxes.
Do post a recipe for your dal - I'd love to try it.