Friday, 15 October 2010

Whole Fish Stuffed in Grape Leaves

Fish wrapped in grape leaves is a popular summer dish in Greece, where it's grilled over a fire. It tastes good. Trust me. What happens during grilling is that the grape leaves and the skin of the fish char together to form a distinctive, crunchy and delicious outer layer. In addition, the grape leaves keep the fish nice and moist.
I used trout to make this recipe just because it looked good at the fish store. It was fresh, well cleaned, and it was on sale. Many other types of fish can be used. Try it with any fish that grills nicely. Especially delicious when using this method are small fish such as red mullet or mackerel. If using small fish, it's not necessary to stuff them. If you still want to stuff the smaller fish, you can use the recipe included here, but omit the rice.

  • 2 pounds of trout (two fish), cleaned of fish guts and bones
  • about 16 preserved grape leaves (you may need more-it depends both on the size of the leaves and the size of the fish), drained and rinsed.
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • 1 shallot chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dill, chopped
  • some fennel fronds

  • Rinse the fish inside and out and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Cook the rice according to package directions, but do not overcook.
  • Saute the scallion, green onions and garlic in some olive oil and add to the rice. Add the lemon zest and parsley, season with salt and pepper and mix well.
  • Sprinkle some olive oil and lemon juice in the cavity of the fish. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Spoon the rice mixture into the cavity of each fish. You'll probably have some rice left over, and that's always good because you can snack on that later.
  • Fold the fish closed and sprinkle it again with olive oil and lemon.
  • Use about 8 grape leaves per fish. Make sure they are nice and dry from being rinsed, then lay them on your work surface, slightly overlapping. Set one of the trout on top and wrap the leaves up and over the fish. Lay another leaf or two on top of the trout to fully encase it. 
  • Tie a few pieces of kitchen string around the fish to secure it. Repeat with the other fish.
  • Brush the grill with oil and cook the fish until its flesh appears opaque (make a small slit through the leaves to check), about 6 minutes on each side.
  • I chose to serve the trout on a bed of fennel fronds; it looked good plus it gave off a nice anise aroma!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice

Grape leaves cooked with some type of stuffing have been around since antiquity. I guess you could say they were the first sandwich that was invented. I have been eating them and loving them since I was a child, and the recipe here is my maternal grandmother's.

In Greek homes, grape leaves with rice are served cold, usually as a first course or as part of an appetizer menu.

It's always nice to have fresh grape leaves on hand, but they are a luxury item here in the USA because they are not readily available. The solution is to get grape leaves in a jar. These are preserved in a brine solution and need to be thoroughly rinsed in order remove excess salt. When I buy preserved grape leaves I always have my fingers crossed. Sometimes they'll be too tough with lots of veins, sometimes too small, sometimes torn. Of course, sometimes I am lucky and they are just right. 

Ideally, grape leaves should melt in one's mouth as they are being eaten. If they don't, that means they were too tough prior to cooking. One solution for softening them is to cook them in boiling water for about 20 to 30 minutes before stuffing them. If you like making stuffed grape leaves and don't have the fresh ones at hand, experiment with different store bought brands until you find the one that works for you. Happy cooking!


1 jar preserved grape leaves, drained
1 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup long grain rice
Juice of 2 
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons dill, chopped
1 teaspoon mint, chopped
2-3 tablespoons currants
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup water

  • Carefully separate the grape leaves. To remove excess salt, place them in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let the leaves soak for about two hours and change the water a few times. Drain and rinse one last time. Cut off the stems and allow the leaves to dry.  
  • In a large saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil, add the onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes or until the onions are translucent. 
  • Add 1 cup of the broth and stir in the rice and green onions. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook the rice until the broth is absorbed, about 10 minutes or so. The rice will not cook all the way but will finish cooking inside the grape leaves. By following this method the end product will not have a mushy filling. Additionally, as the rice finishes cooking inside the grape leaf it expands, thus creating a firmer and well filled little bundle. 
  • Transfer the rice to a large bowl and mix in the juice of one lemon, parsley, dill, mint, currants, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Don't use too much salt because the grape leaves are already salty.
  • Place one leaf on a flat surface, vein side up, shiny side down. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the centre of the leaf, near the stem edge. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and then roll the leaf with the stuffing to form a nice bundle. You should now have a stuffed grape leaf. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
  • Line the bottom of a heavy saucepan with leftover or torn grape leaves. You can also add any stems that are left over from the herbs used in the recipe. Arrange the bundles seam side down, packing them close together. Layer more bundles on top, keeping the same layering pattern so that the cooking liquid is able to surround them all. 
  • Combine the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, the rest of the broth and the lemon juice. Pour over the stuffed grape leaves. The liquid should just about cover them. Have a cup of water handy to use if more liquid is needed before the cooking time is up. You don't want your bundles to dry up, but you also don't want them swimming in liquid.
  • To keep the bundles from floating around in the liquid place a heatproof plate on top of them to weigh them down.
  • Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for about one hour, or until the leaves are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Allow the leaves to cool until they can be handled. Remove them to a container and allow them to chill. In other words, don't let them sit in liquid because the stuffing will become mushy. Grape leaves stuffed with rice are served cold.

Friday, 1 October 2010

GOUGÈRES? When you need cheese puffs to accompany Champagne, try Gougères

I told myself to have one gougère in order to celebrate. Celebrate what? Everything! Excuse me, it's time for gougère number two. Delicious! Try these with Champagne!!! 

Gougères are savoury cheese puffs made from choux dough. They are associated with the Burgundy region of France and are served cold for wine tasting, piping hot if they're to be appetizers. Gougères are made by heating milk or water and milk and then melting butter into the mixture. While the ingredients are still hot, flour is added and stirred to blend. The tricky part comes next: the mixture is moved over to an electric beater and eggs are added to it one at a time. Then the cheese is added. 

I used gruyere cheese and added some Pecorino Romano for extra zing. It's important to beat the mixture very well in order to introduce air into it. The air (which will help to make steam), is the reason the puffs will rise while baking. Therefore, without vigorous beating, the cheese puffs will remain flat.

The gougères are placed on trays lined with parchment and baked for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is to be dropped with a spoon onto the parchment and formed into small, perfect mounds. Forming these little mounds required more dexterity than I possess, so some of my puffs came out misshaped. Other than that they were great. These little guys can be stored unbaked in the freezer and taken out to be baked as needed. They make great appetizers.

This recipe makes about forty cheese puffs. 


1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese 
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese

beat together the following:
1 egg
one tablespoon milk
a few shakes of black pepper

Gently brush on the gougères prior to baking.

  • preheat the oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt and pepper to a rapid boil over high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to low and quickly start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. With all your vim and vigour keep stirring for another 2 to 3 minutes. Your objective is to make a drier dough. It should come out very smooth.
  • Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Don't be concerned if the dough falls apart - by the time most of the eggs are added, the dough will start to come together. Beat in the grated cheeses and the thyme. Once the dough is ready, it should be used immediately.
  • Use about 1 tablespoon of dough for each gougère: drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each piece of dough.
  • Gently and quickly brush with the egg wash.
  • Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets. Continue baking until the puffs are golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve the gougère piping hot as soon as they come from the oven.
Storing: You can shape the gougères and freeze them for up to 2 months before you bake them. There's no need to defrost the frozen puffs, just bake them a couple of minutes more.