Stuffed Grape Leaves – 29/67

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My high school graduation party was catered by a little mom and pop Egyptian market in the suburb next to ours. Instead of burgers and potato salad, we had vats of falafel, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, hummus, buttery rice pilaf, and stuffed grape leaves. My mouth waters just typing all those words in a row. I’m not sure where my Middle Eastern food obsession began (maybe the Lebanese restaurant next to my dad’s work that was a treat when we’d visit him there?), or how/where/if it collides with my Jewish roots, but I do know the love is deep. I’m not interested in debating ownership of my favorite foods — I know many countries claim creation of falafel and hummus and dolmas, but I will not engage. I will happily eat all varieties. Whichever is nearest is the best. (Except for my vast disappointment while teaching in Azerbaijan a couple years back, where I learned ALL dolmas there have meat. They called this rice-filled stye “fake dolmas” and looked down their noses at it. I had zero stuffed grape leaves in Azerbaijan 😦 .) 

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The owner of that mom and pop market loved my parents and got to know them a bit — I mean, they’d order TONS of food for big parties every so often, how could they not. At some point around high school he told us that he couldn’t wait to cater my wedding someday. I’m sure I was immediately embarrassed and rolled my eyes and said yeah sure, whatever…

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And then ten years later, lo and behold, I was engaged! And the first thing I knew I wanted at my wedding (besides the right husband 😉 ) — was the food! Stuffed grape leaves, falafel, mezze and dips galore. Homey, bright, flavorful food with history. No chicken breasts or veggie pastas. We started from food and made decisions from there. As the wedding was not close to my childhood home, alas, we could not fulfill the prophecy made by Mr. Market Owner, but I never forgot his words.  We hired a different mom and pop operation — or I guess it was more like pop and friends — and it was more Turkish than Egyptian, but oh man I feel pretty good about claiming we really had the best ever wedding food. The grape leaves were lip-pursing with pomegranate molasses, the hummus silky smooth, the fattoush crunchy and seasonal. I only wish I ate more of it. 

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I can’t believe I’ve never tried to make grape leaves, long one of my favorite foods. I will always order stuffed grape leaves if they’re on the menu (well, if they’re meat-free and nut-less, not guaranteed), and rarely have I found one I don’t like. Daniel was iffy about them until I came along and showed him the light. Calling them “grape leaves” doesn’t do justice do the tangy, spicy, citrusy, poppy dare-I-say vegetal dumpling that awaits. And so this seemed like a great project for a Sunday afternoon during quarantine. I had a jar of grape leaves around from my bridal shower and had a recipe for them in #thebinder, but I went off script and used a completely different recipe, one that had Turkish spices, as we just bought black Urfa chili flakes and dried mint from my friend’s amazing spice company and wanted to put them to use, and because it was vegetarian. Daniel added some beef to his, but admitted it wasn’t necessary. We didn’t totally nail the cooking time on these, but they’re still amazing, and still highly recommended for a weekend project. 

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five years ago: grilled pineapple and baked bean tacos

Stuffed Grape Leaves

adapted from Give Recipe

1 lb jar of grape leaves (we didn’t use all of them)

Filling
2 cups white rice, rinsed
1 big tomato, peeled and finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
4-6 cloves garlic, finely diced
¼ – ½ cup fresh parsley, finely diced
½ teaspoon cayenne (these are on the spicy side! do less if you’d like)
½ teaspoon black urfa chili flakes (optional, but nice and smoky)
2 teaspoons dried mint
1 teaspoon sumac
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato or pepper paste (optional)
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup olive oil

Ground beef, optional

To Cook
At least 2 cups water
¼ cup olive oil

Remove grape leaves from jar and soak in hot water to remove some of the brine. 

To make filling, mix all filling ingredients in a big bowl. To make a meaty version, remove about a quarter of the mixture and place in a new bowl. Add about a quarter pound of ground beef and mix to incorporate. 

Lay out a grape leaf. Cut off the pointy stem with a paring knife. Place about a teaspoon or two of filling in a line right above the removed stem. Fold the bottom of the leaf up. Fold both sides in. Roll up to form a small log. Don’t roll too tightly, as rice will expand as it’s cooked and you don’t want them to explode. (The video from from Give Recipe shows this folding process clearly.)

Repeat until done with filling. As you’re filling, remove any misshapen or torn leaves. Use them to cover the bottom of a wide pot or braiser. Then, stack all filled and rolled grape leaves in the pot. Pour 2 cups water and ¼ cup olive oil over your nested grape leaves. Cover pot and turn heat to low. Cook for at least 45 minutes. Check for rice doneness and continue adding water and steaming as necessary. Ours took another 20ish minutes. 

Try to stop yourself from eating the whole pan warm off the stove. Store in the fridge and serve with yogurt if you’d like. 

Shrimp and Grits – 16/67

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I’ve always said that I know I still love living in New York because when I get off the plane after a trip, I’m excited to be here. Well my friends, this past arrival is really throwing my brain for a loop. I just had the most magical weekend celebrating my friends’ marriage in Vail, Colorado. Vail is unfairly beautiful. I was there a few years ago for a ski day, but I don’t think the extent of the beauty hit me til this weekend. Snow covered mountains! In June! Trees in every shade of green that literally made me want to take up painting! Glorious aspens, framing a lake, framing a mountain! Adorable old-timey Main Streets. I mean, how is this fair?? NYC doesn’t have any of these things 😦

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Man, weddings are the best. It felt like a band trip or college reunion — all these people I love and who live across the country all of a sudden staying in the same hotel and having a bunch of meals together. Such a treat.

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Meg and Jonny put together a truly beautiful celebration, complete with their ring bearer pup and a rainbow gracing cocktail hour (that part was unplanned). Meg’s Gypsy Kings dance with her dad brought me to giddy tears. We all fell down attempting the lift in the Dirty Dancing song. We enjoyed the effects of open bar + altitude (well, until morning appeared, rudely and painfully). Daniel and I were so glad to bear witness to it all, and also happy we got to sneak in two hikes, some drone activity, an absolutely amazing lunch in town, a brewery visit, and a catch up with an (unrelated) friend while we were out there. Three days well spent. But I could’ve used an extra one or two before returning. It was too brief a flirtation to make me miss home.

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Meg made Daniel and me her version of shrimp and grits forever ago, when we all lived in New York. I remember loving them and being really impressed I didn’t get a stomach ache afterwards. Because usually shrimp and grits are a cream and butter bomb. But not Meg’s version! Hers is full of veggies, lemon juice, and garlic. There’s a little butter and a good handful of parm, which both go a long way, but won’t weigh you down for the rest of the night. And it’s so good, and so quick. I’m in love with this recipe. Apparently Meg’s family adapted it from their local favorite restaurant, Palm Valley Fish Camp, in Jacksonville, Florida. Thank you, Meg and family, for this gift! And for bringing us to the mountains for this joyful weekend. Happy, happy wedded life! 

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four years ago: kale caesar salad – one of my fav salads, which I crave about once a week. And it’s perfect for CSA season!
five years ago (squee! 5! I never even updated that silly background picture that was supposed to be a placeholder!): rhubarb, chickpea, and spinach stew with lemony yogurt sauce

Shrimp and Grits

From Meg, via her family, via Palm Valley Fish Camp

Serves at least 3

1 cup grits (the quick cooking kind)
2-3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
⅓ cup red onion, very finely diced (about half an onion)
⅓ cup red bell pepper, very finely diced (about half a pepper)
1 stalk celery, very finely diced
3 cloves garlic, very finely diced
1ish pound of jumbo shrimp, cleansed and shells removed (about 2 cups)
1 big tomato, seeded and very finely diced
2-3 tablespoons very finely chopped parsley + extra to garnish
Juice from 1 lemon
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and white pepper (Meg’s recipe called for Penzey’s White Sarawak Pepper, but I used the grocery store brand I had around, and use black pepper if that’s what you’ve got)
Hot sauce

Cook grits according to package directions. This should entail something like — bring a bunch of water to a boil. Add grits and a bit of salt, turn heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until water is absorbed and grits are creamy, about 5 minutes. Add a tablespoonish of butter and cover. (Meg’s recipe said to use smart balance, but I didn’t want to buy it for just this. Butter was, as you can guess, delicious.)

In a big pan (we used our Le Creuset braiser), melt 1 tablespoonish of butter with the olive oil. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Cook for 4-8 minutes, or until veggies have softened. Add shrimp, tomatoes, parsley, and a sprinkle of kosher salt, and cook until shrimp are done, about 4 minutes. Liquid should have evaporated a bit. Stir in lemon juice. Take pan off heat and stir in parmesan. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

Spoon grits into a bowl, top with shrimp and sauce, and decorate with extra parsley and hot sauce. What a dinner.

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Sweet Things on Challah

I can’t stop thinking back over this weekend and trying to relive it in slow motion. We wrote on our website that we wanted the weekend of March 16 to be “a celebratory dance party slash weekend-long feast slash opportunity to bring together in one place all the people we love.” Well, good job us, because our wedding weekend absolutely accomplished that.

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I could gush ad naseum about how I teared up when I first saw the perfect chuppah Daniel’s brother Jacob made, decorated with colorful spring flowers and draped with family tablecloths. I could talk about how we went from hora to Rueda to Natalie Merchant to 500 Miles and every single person danced to each one. I could gush about our perfectly “us” cake lovingly created by my bestie Leah and topped with narwhals, or about how friends flew in from literally all over the country for the weekend, or how I watched my dad salsa dance with my coworker, or how I felt as Daniel and I exchanged our vows and then got pelted by pompoms.

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But I won’t. Instead I’ll gush about my sister and cousin and their awesome co-maids of honor speech. These two lovely humans shared such silly and heartwarming stories. I am so lucky to have them in my network and supportive of my journey. In their speech (which of course they killed), they mentioned finding evidence of “my first recipe” — surely a bi-product of a neighborhood round of iron chef with the secret ingredient of apples, or something of the like.

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Of course I had to remake it. I don’t think cinnamon chips still exist, so regular old cinnamon had to suffice. I did have two kinds of sprinkles hiding in the pantry (one bought for making Heddy’s baby shower cake, one bought for making Lauren’s bachelorette party … cake). I had challah lying around (Thanks grandma! Sorry everyone at the wedding who we didn’t get around to delivering challah to! It was well-intentioned but poorly executed!). And so here we are. Recreate if you dare — Daniel and I each managed a bite and gave up.

#swankyoriginal

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one year ago: tonight for dinner I made the salad of my dreams with roasted squash, barley, feta, sugar snap peas, mizuna, and mint #norecipe #firstmealwemadeasmarriedpeople
two years ago: eh, two outta four isn’t so bad…
three years ago:
kungpao Brussel sprouts and tofu 
four years ago: spicy lemon fregola with artichokes and caramelized onions 

 

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Tomatillo and Peach Salsa (& a wedding cake!)

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The past two weeks have been filled with a whole lotta love. I had the joyous fortune to witness the marriages of two sets of friends over the past two weeks, and am full to the brim with good feelings and joie de vivre. Not only am I overjoyed at the unions of all these lovely people who I am lucky to have in my life, I am refreshed and renewed by people of all kinds. So often, I go through my day with a stern countenance, wary of strangers, stingy with my smiles. In the past two weeks, I have had my mind expanded and my life momentarily affected by new no-longer strangers from around the world. My friends have the best friends.

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I love that I was able to rehearse and perform a Bollywood dance at Nandita and Alex’s wedding with 20 other recruited newbie dancers. (Also, turns out Daniel has some mad Bollywood skillz…) I can say pretty confidently we Rocked that dance, and the brides beamed and I felt instantaneous camaraderie with my “Zor Ka Jhatka” team. And then, when the reception was over, we held a little after party at our apartment with the 85 beers gifted to us by the caterers and three cabs-full of new friends.

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And then this weekend, after months of planning and taste tests and one bad dream involving emergency outsourced avocado curd (ew), my friend Leah and I made a wedding cake!!!! It was a giant labor of love, and by giant I mean pretty freaking giant — I think the whole thing used at least 40 sticks of butter, multiple bags of sugar, 75 eggs, and two big bags of lemons. The final monster was a vanilla cake from Rose’s The Cake Bible, with Ina’s lemon curd, Martha’s raspberry curd, Sweetapolita’s vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream, and hand-holding from Deb. (It takes a village…) The thing itself was transported in many boxes with the help of a kind boyfriend and amused cab driver, and then hastily stacked and decorated amidst ladders and lanterns being hung up, and caterers running around, and someone forgetting their pants and needing to run home half an hour before the wedding started. And yet, it came together beautifully and tastily too. So many strangers wanted to talk about the cake — to say how lovely it was (oh shucks), or about their own baking experiences, or to chat about my (nonexistent) professional baking career.

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Weddings are fun. I love being surrounded by people who have traveled far and wide to share in love. To celebrate togetherness. I like that these weddings happened with the change of the season — a gentle farewell to what was and an excited eye cast towards the future.

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In that light, perhaps you want to make salsa? With roasted tomatillos and the last of summer peaches? This salsa is a great picnic accompaniment and really, much easier than a wedding cake. But it’ll go fast and make people in awe of you anyway because most people just don’t understand how easy it is to make your own dang salsa.

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Daniel’s spicy spicy red pepper salsa recipe to come some day… we’ll wait for me to build my heat tolerance just a bit more.

one year ago: roasted radish, blistered pepper, and olive pizza

Tomatillo and Peach Salsa

This is a more straightforward vessel for chips than my previously-posted mango black bean “salad-alsa”. Might be harder to eat this with a spoon, but don’t let me stop you from trying. Adapted from macheesmo.com. 

1 lb tomatillos
2  big peaches
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper
1 big clove garlic, minced
½ c cilantro, chopped
1-2 T onion, finely chopped
1 lime
s&p

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove husks from tomatillos and cut in half. Place on a baking tray, cut-side up. Roast for 20 minutes.

Set a small pan on medium-high heat. Add serrano pepper, turning every minute or so until lightly charred on all sides. Set aside.

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. With a small sharp knife, score the bottom of each peach with a small “x”. Boil peaches for one minute. Drain and let cool. Peel peaches with your fingers, starting from the “x”. You will get juicy and messy! Lick your fingers (and then wash your hands). Cut peaches into small bite-sized pieces and place into a medium-sized bowl. Discard (or eat) skins.

In a food processor, combine tomatillos and the serrano pepper. Pulse until there are no pieces remaining, and mixture is homogeneous and slightly syrupy. Add tomatillos to peach bowl, along with the garlic, cilantro, onion, and juice of a lime. Season to taste with s&p.

So Proud!!

So Proud!!