As I strolled down the travessa on the outside of our garden recently I was overwhelmed by the overhang of branches and leaves from our grapevine.Ripe for the picking I thought. If I dont, anyone else can.I read up on how to bottle them and related recipes.
Stuffed Grape Leaves are popular in several Mediterranean countries and in the Middle East. The dish has different names depending on the region. The Greek call them dolmades or dolmathes, and the Egyptian and the Lebanese call them Mahshi Wara’ inab. But It’s okay like me just call them… stuffed grape leaves! I took my lead from Portugal´s most prolific chef of the moment, Jose Avillez.While Lisbon vibrated with the opening of Jamie Oliver's first restaurant in the country, and the press and television jostled to give the first images of the British chef's italianesses in fashionable Principe Real, only a short schlep away,without all the fuss, another new venture, Pitaria, was quietly opening its doors,masterminded by Portugal´s very own Avillez.
A new micro restaurante, at Rua Nova da Trindade, very close to Bairro do Avillez, with a new style of food,slightly different to the range of restaurants Lisbon is used to: flavours of the Middle East, everything Pita.Smart innovative street food,all to take-away, a rare case for Chiado.
The carefully chosen aromatic herbs and spices used in each pita is what distinguishes it from the competition, with pitas always prepared to order in full view of the customer.
Well I thought; if Avillez has crossed the inexhaustible energy of Lisbon with flavours of the middle east I can cook up a bit of Levantine dolma in the east Algarve. street food in Castro Marim? We now have a tuk tuk so anything is possible.Pita falafel with baba ganoush anyone?
My very own Stuffed Grape Leaves. These are grape leaves, stuffed with a tantalizing mixture of Portuguese beef,rice, parsley,garlic, paprika, tomato concentrate and lemon. 'Yum' is the only one word to describe these. These can either be a main dish or part of a mezze, depending on your appetite,and what size vine leaves you have to hand.
250g(8oz) nervo de ganso,braising steak,round or flank
Clean the piece of meat of any excess fat.Heat a little olive oil in the bottom of a deep saucepan or small casserole and over a medium to high heat. Colour the piece of meat on all sides.season with salt and pepper.Pour in enough beef stock and water to come half way up the meat.Reduce the flame to lowest setting and leave the meat to cook slowly uncovered until it begins to crack ( around 2.5 to 3 hours )remove the piece of meat from the pan and reserve the remaining stock for later. When cool enough to work with Shred the meat well using two forks.
20 vine leaves
115g (4oz ) long grain rice
40g 1.5oz spring onion,finely chopped
Tbsp finely chopped celery
25g finely chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic crushed
80 ml lemon juice
2 tbsp tomato concentrate
heaped tsp smoked paprka (picante)
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the celery, spring onion,garlic and paprika.Add the rice and stir until covered and glistening.Add the reserved stock that the beef was cooked in and enough water to cook the rice.Cook the rice until all the moisture has been absorbed and the rice is tender, then stir in the lemon juice tomato concentrate,and parsley.Mix in the shredded beef till well incorporated.
What do you serve with them?
Stuffed vine leaves are normally served hot with a lemony egg sauce called avgolemono.This is quite a tricky one to make and requires practice.Although the basic Greek Avgolemono recipe is relatively simple, experience has shown me that it can be really tricky. If you have ever tried making your own Avgolemono before lots of things can go wrong, leading to a disaster! The most common mistake is that the Avgolemono – egg lemon sauce curdles and gets lumpy.It is also often served in Greek restaurants as a starter.If you are in the right restaurant it is an absolute treat,but it has to be made to the word.I have gone for a slight twist here and made a creamy sauce with preserved lemon and garlic.I finished the plate with a simple tomato and red onion salad dressed with olive oil and oregano.
Creamy preserved lemon and garlic sauce
2 tsp butter
2 quarters of a preserved lemon ,rinsed and flesh removed the diced
tsp piri piri flakes
3-4 cloves of garlic crushed
2 tsp honey
heaped tbsp fresh coriander
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
Sauté diced preserved lemon and garlic in the melted butter and then add white wine (or chicken stock if you prefer) and heavy cream, then simmer gently until it reduces to a dreamy, decadent, creamy lemon sauce.If you want a smoother consistency,whizz the sauce in a processor and then return it to the pan.