Friday, April 13, 2007
Now THAT'S a stuffed grape leaf
I have had good stuffed grape leaves. And I have had bad stuffed grape leaves. And unfortunately, the bad have occurred more often than the good. The problem is the rice. Sometimes it is to mushy and gooey, the texture turns me right off. The best ones I ever had was at a restaurant in DownTown Chicago called Pegasus. It was part of a corporate dinner. I was pregnant with DD at the time, and the (then) president of our company fretted over me all day, then marvelled at the amount I could eat. One of the several awesome courses, were meat stuffed grape leaves in a lemon-egg sauce. I am telling you, I could have eaten my weight in those things. Another excellent version were made by a co-worker. These had a bit of meat but were mostly rice, seasoned with sumac (and other stuff LOL), marinated in a lemon/olive oil vinagrette and served at room temperature. Man oh man, different but good. The rice was perfect, not hard and grainy and not mushy or sticky. And that sumac has such an intriguing sour flavour, I had to find myself some (thank heavens for internet shopping). Today I stopped at our local Market Square to get some ingredients for dinner, and decided to treat myself with a spinach pie and some stuffed grape leaves. The spinach pie is okay, but I think I prefer a phyllo version. This one looks kind of like a calzone - not crunchy flakey satisfying LOL. The innards were too wet so it was soggy, and there were some tomatoes inside that did nothing for the texture nor the flavour. The grape leaves are very very good, if a bit dry. I think maybe I was supposed to reheat them with a bit of water in a covered pan. I am too lazy for that. The leaves themselves are tender, the rice is cooked nicely and the seasonings are good. You can really taste the brine of the leaves (I think that is a good thing, although I see in recipes they give directions on how to remove that briney taste LOL), and I haven't gotten tangled in a tough stem yet. I have contemplated making some myself. I make perogies and cabbage rolls and spring rolls and wontons, so I am not afraid of spending time creating and endless stream of small packages. My bigger issue, is that DH and DD would never dream of touching them. I don't know that I can eat an entire batch by myself (who am I kidding? I probably could in the course of a day. But then I would be sick of them and never want them again, and what is the fun in that?). I think they can be frozen, but would that ruin the texture of the rice? Dilemna dilemna. Any commentors out there that make and freeze them? Any tips? Or shall I just make some and have a tapas party? I am the only person I know that cooks and would attempt anything so I would anticipate a LOT of frozen appetizer thingies ROFL. Tonight for dinner, we are having "oriental" night. DD won't be home, which is good, because I am trying a thai beef curry and a steamed fish dish (that sounds sort of cantonese to me, but I don't even think the recipe is authentic so it doesn't matter LOL). I plan on making crispy spring rolls this time. I am waiting for more spring seasonal veggies to make soft summer rolls. I have the wonton skins but I haven't commited to soup yet. That is DD's favourite but she won't be here. I might save those for next week when DH is on afternoons and she is more likely to appreciate them. I have never made thai before. I have only sampled it once, in a bad thai restaurant. I can't say I was impressed. First off, they started with coconut shrimp soup. SHRIMP SOUP. I am sorry, but the mere thought grossed me right out. I don't mind shrimp in certain applications, but floating in a soup is sure to make me dry heave. The second was a rice noodle dish. It was dry, greasy, and tasted odd. The last was some kind of mushy meatball. I could not get past the texture, I thought it was very raw feeling. I have had meatballs and other items as part of dim sum that were made from pork and shrimp paste, so that wasn't the problem. It just seemed very raw and mushy to me. All in all, not the best experience. And I think lemongrass tastes like furniture polish. There. I said it. That being said, I figured I would give it a go myself. And it better be good, after all the ingredients I had to scour the city to find. I suppose I should have STARTED at the Oriental stall in the market, but I never said I was smart. I was there today. I know it annoys some of them when I go and browse. And I know it annoys them more when I know what I want and seem to understand what it is. They moved everything around since the last time I was there, so I looked like a rube again - wandering the store and staring at all the packages and bottles. I love browsing in there. Such interesting things LOL. I almost grabbed a green papaya, but decided against it until I can do more research over recipes. I have seen a green papaya salad and my imagination tells me it would be wonderful. Maybe I am afraid to burst my own bubble. The rest of my market haul, besides some oriental ingredients, and a whole red snapper? A dozen farm fresh eggs, green onions, ginger, and my lunch nibbles. I wanted apples too, but couldn't commit to a bushel. That is a lot of apples for us. What was in the quarts just didn't appeal. Picky picky! I saw some parsley roots and would have loved to grab some for soup, but I was out of time and money. Hopefully they will be there again. I have discovered that parsley root in chicken stock leaves such a mysterious yet craveable flavour. A bit of parsnip or turnip is close, but not quite it. Parsley stems are closer, but the root is the best. That and a tomato or two. Not enough to change the colour, nor even really taste tomato. But it sort of boosts the flavour. And if I want to go even more Eastern European, I add a beef bone. If I am leaning towards more of a "chinese" flavour, I add some pork instead, and a whole bunch of green onions (spring onions, scallions, chinese leeks, however you refer to them). It all depends on what I want to use it for. I also have to make some tarts tonight. A friend of ours who has been deployed in Afghanistan is home on leave. His wife is throwing him a good-by party, as he is leaving soon to go back. Days after he got here, his buddies were killed by a roadside bomb. He is really having trouble with this. Here he is, home enjoying friends and family and his group is hit. His welcome home became part of a local story, with people tying ribbons everywhere and wearing "Support our troops" t-shirts waiting for him at the airport. DD is very interested to meet him (she hasn't seen him since she was a baby), as she has never seen a soldier before. Dh is kind of afraid to go, it is hard for him to come to terms with the fact that one of his high school buddies spends most of his day in peril like that. I think maybe he doesn't want to see him, then spend every day worrying about him. I have a different take on it. You see, this guy has kind of had a hard life. I think he was trying to find something important to do. Sometimes he made bad choices in this search, some mistakes were made for him. I feel going over there as part of the Canadian Military is the most important thing he will ever do. This is what he was working towards, looking for. To be even a small cog as part of a larger machine that is making an impact. For him, it is a good fit and a good choice even though there is daily peril. Let's face it, people like him die on the street every day WITHOUT the possibility of a car bomb. He could have continued on a path, drank himself to death like his father and so many more before him. Instead, he came to a fork in the road and decided to do THIS. And no matter what happens to him there, he will have been part of something important, greater than himself. And that is where he is supposed to be. And when his tours are done, and that chapter of his life is over, he will always have those experiences. He will be able to get a normal job and live a normal life, and stop searching for that one important thing. And if it so happens that he does NOT return from this important life event (heaven forbid, but let's be realistic here), then I believe that is what was meant for him. He will be remembered as a hero - something that would have been impossible had he not gone. And that is what I think about that.