I’m having a bit of a moment with Asian food right now. If you follow me on twitter or instagram, you’ve seen this borne out in a series of slightly-obsessive photos of yam som-o, pomelo salad, which I am very, very close to perfecting (and then posting!). This, of course, is because we traveled to Vietnam and Thailand in December. D so anticipates these obsessive bouts when and after we travel that she doesn’t even bother to roll her eyes anymore. She sees the packages of rice, tamarind, bamboo steamers, and obscure Thai cookbooks, makes me promise I’ll still make pasta sometimes, and lets it lie. Best wife ever.
It just so happens that my Asian cooking moment has coincided with a period of self-imposed exile from Mediterranean food. You wouldn’t know it from the number of recipes I’ve posted from Plenty and Jerusalem lately, but I’ve been taking a break from hummus, muhamarra,, and labneh. I ate too much of it in the fall, and I needed some time off.
The vacation was also a vacation from grape leaves, which I generally love but basically O.D.ed on back in November. After a not-particularly-successful attempt at making my own, I cut myself off. We ate a lot of pasta in December, and then we went to Asia. Now we’re back, and while I could eat pad thai for probably 2 weeks straight before needing a break, D has had enough Asian noodles to last her a lifetime. It was time to get back on the Mediterranean bandwagon.
A long-time lover of stuffed grape leaves, I was thrilled to find a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty for Grape Leaf, Herb, and Yogurt Pie. It’s basically a deconstructed stuffed grape leaf, but with crispy, crunchy bread crumbs sprinkled overtop. The other genius this about this recipe is that instead of calling for rice, which you’d have to cook and cool in order to use, Ottolenghi has you bring the filling together with rice flour. Brilliant. If you used GF breadcrumbs, this whole dish could be gluten free.
I ate this and was excited to eat more; I guess I’m back onto Mediterranean food.
Grape Leaf Pie
Adapted from Plenty
When I first made this, I thought it would be a perfect vegetarian main course. Now that we’ve tried it, I think it’s more like a side. It’d make a fantastic dish as part of a meal like this, where basically everything is a side. If you wanted to make it more substantial, you could probably double the recipe (grape leaves and filling) and put it in a deeper, larger dish. You’d also need to cook it for probably 20 minutes longer.
I changed a bunch of things here. First, Ottolenghi calls for 5 1/2 tablespoons of fat, but you don’t need it all. I cut to 4 (3 olive oil, 1 butter) and found that to be, er, plenty. I also added currants, which gave this pie much needed bits of sweet to contrast all its tartness. For me, the currants made the dish. Use raisins if you don’t have or can’t find currants. I also skipped the yogurt garnish. This whole pie tastes like yogurt; adding more on top was overkill. If you really want to finish the dish, you might warm a few tablespoons of honey and drizzle that overtop. That would be really lovely. Do leave a comment if you try it.
The last thing I changed was the instruction on how to fold the grape leaves over the pie. At first, I followed Ottolenghi’s instructions to fold the overhanging leaves back over first, then pile the remaining leaves overtop. (That’s what you see in the picture above.) On second thought, I undid this, put down the remaining leaves first, and then folded in the overhang. That way, the overhanging leaves envelop the whole pie, and it’s much easier to cut.
Special ingredient alert: it’s not every day you leave the grocery store with a jar of grape leaves and a bag of rice flour. I get it. Grape leaves are available at some Whole Foods and Mediterranean markets. Rice flour is available at WF, as well as at many health food stores, and increasingly at regular grocery stores, with the explosion of GF diets. Happy shopping!
20 to 25 grape leaves (fresh or from a jar)
4 shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup currants or raisins
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/2 tbsp finely chopped tarragon
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
3 tbsp finely chopped dill
4 tbsp finely chopped mint
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and black pepper
1/2 cup rice flour
3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs (preferably panko)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the grape leaves in a shallow bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 10 minutes. Then remove the leaves from the water and dry them well with a tea towel. Use scissors to trim off and discard the bit of hard stem at the base of each leaf.
Sauté the shallots in 1 tablespoon of the oil for about 8 minutes, or until light brown. Add the currants and 1 tablespoon of water, stir to combine with the shallots, and leave to cool down.
Take a round and shallow ovenproof dish that is roughly 8 inches in diameter, and cover its bottom and sides with grape leaves, slightly overlapping them and allowing the leaves to hang over the rim of the dish. Mix the melted butter with 1 tablespoons of olive oil; use about two-thirds of this to generously brush the leaves lining the dish.
Mix together in a bowl the shallots and currants, yogurt, pine nuts, chopped herbs, and lemon zest and juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add in the rice flour and mix until everything is combined and uniform. Spread the mixture evenly in the baking dish, using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to nudge the mixture into the dish without disturbing the grape leaves.
Use the remaining grape leaves to cover the top of the pie, making sure to cover the middle if you don’t have enough to cover the entire surface. Then fold the overhanging grape leaves back over the top of the pie. Brush with the rest of the butter and oil mix. Finally, scatter the breadcrumbs over the top and drizzle over the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until the leaves crisp up and the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes. Use a very sharp or (preferably) serrated knife to cut into wedges and serve warmish or at room temperature.