Sunday, June 14, 2015

Grape leaves-stuffed with rice

Ok, I admit that when I signed up for the farming work in Turkey, my main reason is to get know more about Turkish cuisines, regional vegetables, herbs and animals. In a sense, yes, I was quite selfish, and the trip was for my own personal fulfillment. (I gave props to those willing to stop whatever they are doing and slave away at a random farm in a random country with the singular intention of helping out a farmer couple.) On the airplane to Turkey, the reality of the imminent hard manual labor suddenly hit me. I quietly and bitterly blamed the past me, who managed to forget that I can be severely allergic to physical activity. All I could do at that moment was to pray hard that my overactive sweat glands would trick my hosts into thinking that I have been working very hard, and my pelvic of nine-year old will make them cautious of asking me to lift anything that is heavy.

Now I have been in the farm for almost a week and, I have learned quite a bit about Turkish food, planting, grafting, bee-breeding, chicken-breeding, turkey-breeding, peacock-breeding, etc. Although surrounded by only a few other households on top of an isolated mountain, Tyip and Deborah’s, my hosts, forest-like farm is frequented by visitors. Today, with their relatives, we made Zeytinyagli Yaprak Samrasi (Grape leaves stuffed with Rice). Almost every house in the village I stayed in has gorgeously jade-green grape trees. Consequently, pungently sour grape leaves are almost symbolic of a staple food in Turkish culture. Making Yaprak Samrasi  is the mirror image of dumpling making in an Asian household. You make them together, and then fight the good fight to get the worth of your share.

Living with Tayip and Deborah instantly took me back to my childhood living with twenty people- loud, enthusiastic and full of laughter and energy, touched with a right amount of yelling and screaming at each other. One most important yet common thread with Tayip’s and my family is that they really both want those around them to succeed and learn something everyday. That really touched me. I have yet to meet many people in Western Culture who invest in my learning as intensely as myself. (Well, may be SAT teachers care about how well their students perform. But, that’s a different case. When money is involved, even pigs suddenly start to fly). After some days, I genuinely feel that I want the couple to do well with their farm. May be it sounds cliché, and I shouldn’t be overly cheesy, but it’s true. Now I wish my sweat glands would be less generous.

Fresh grape leaves

Ingredients for stuffing

-       1 cup of short-grained rice
-       1 tomato, diced
-       1 onion, diced
-       3 cloves of garlic, minced
-       2 tablespoons of olive oil
-       2 tablespoons of fennel ferns, chopped
-       2 tablespoons of mint leaves, chopped
-       2 tablespoons of lemon zests
-       ½ cup of chicken broth
-       ½ cup of water
-       ½ cup of golden raisins
-       Salt and pepper to taste


-       Heat the olive oil in a pan, and sauté, tomato, onions, and garlic until fragrant on a medium heat (about 5 minutes)
-       Add in the rice, and herbs. Stir gently so that the rice grains are properly coated with the aromatics.
-       Add in the chicken stock and water. Cover and simmer over low heat.
-       Stir occasionally with a fork, and the rice is done when the liquid has been taken up completely. The exact time can be variable, but when I was cooking, the grains drink up all the wonderful juices in about 15 minutes.
-       Turn off the heat, and cover the pot for another 10 minutes.
-       The rice will still have a bite, and will continue to cook

Wrapping and steaming the wraps


-       ¼ lbs. of grape leaves (I used fresh ones here, but I have been told that the pickled grape leaves that you find in local stores will do just fine).
-       2 tablespoons of olive oil
-       ½ of lemon (sliced)
-       1 cup of water


-    Boil the leaves in water for about 10 minutes, and let them cool down.
-       Place a grape leaf so that the side with the veins is facing you.
-       Pile a small spoonful of rice on the leaf. Roll it up as you would to a burrito or a spring roll.
-       In a pot, line the bottom with some grape leaves to prevent from burning.
-       Layer the stuffed grape leaves.
-       Top with lemon slices.
-       Pour in water and olive oil. Cook under low heat for about 40 minutes.

-       Serve either hot or room temperature, with a side of yoghurt.

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