Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Koupepia (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
I first tried stuffed grape leaves in college and I was not a fan. Cold, stuffed with bland rice filling and possessing a completely unappealing squishiness, they were something I just couldn't get into it. True, they were store-bought and my friend adored them, but I was turned off. I tried them once or twice more after that, but each successive experience was the same as the first. I was turned off; in my mind, for good.Then Seth and I went to Cyprus this past August and I became obsessed with sampling every meze dish I came across, including, wouldn't you know, stuffed grape leaves. I was actually excited to try them because one, they were fresh and seemed a bit more authentic coming from Kakopetria as opposed to some grocery store in Virginia; and two, I know tastes change and am always willing to test mine.
Turns out that willingness is a good thing (duh, why else would I post this recipe?) but I have to give credit to the food: koupepia (little cigars) in Cyprus are stuffed with meat - not squishy, overcooked rice! - seasoned lightly with herbs, and ours were served simmered in a simple tomato sauce. There was no hint of the bland mush I was familiar with; these things were good.
So it is my luck that my bible of Middle Eastern cooking as a recipe for them and when better to try them out then the biggest eating day of the year (for Americans, at least)? As they can be served cold I decided to make them a day ahead because, oof, I was terrified of the seemingly complicated process of rolling. However, the only tedious part is separating the grape leaves without tearing them. For the koupepia you just lay a leaf shiny-side, spoon some filling in, fold up the bottom and sides, then fold to the end - just like a burrito. In practically no time I had a little army of meat cigars waiting to be simmered in broth. Mounch.
Koupepia (Stuffed Grape Leaves) (slightly modified)
The Complete Middle East Cookbook
35 fresh or preserved grape leaves
1 small onion, finely chopped
2tbsp olive oil
1/2lb ground beef or lamb
1/4cup finely chopped parsely
2tsp finely chopped mint OR 1tsp dried mint
1 1/2tsp salt
1/2-1tsp ground black pepper
2tbsp lemon juice
2cups stock, flavor of your choice
1. Rinse leaves in cold water and blanch in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, then into a colander to drain.
2. Gently fry onion in oil until soft. Lightly mix beef (or lamb) with rice, onion and oil, herbs, salt and pepper until well-combined.
3. To shape Koupepia: place a leaf, shiny side down, on work surface. Snip off stem if necessary. Place about a tablespoon of meat mixture near stem end, fold end and sides over stuffing and roll up firmly (just like you would a burrito.)
4. Line base of a heavy pan with 6 leaves (use damaged ones) and pack Koupepia close together in layers. Sprinkle each layer with a little of the lemon juice.
5. Cover top rolls with remaining leaves. Add the butter and 2 cups stock with any remaining lemon juice. Invert a heavy plate over top to keep rolls in shape during cooking. (This is important, as the rolls not completely under my plate loosened and unfurled slightly.)
6. Bring to a slow simmer, then simmer gently for 1 hour (if you are doubling the recipe cook for 1 1/2 hours.) When finished remove rolls from pan and drain. Can be served immediately (and warm) or made in advance and served cold.
*- The rolls are tasty, but a bit dry and have the general atmosphere of missing something. My cookbook gives an egg and lemon sauce to serve with the warm koupepia, but in Cyprus I had them with a simple tomato sauce and think I will make one for tomorrow. I plan to simmer the rolls in the sauce to reheat them, so I'll let you know how they turn out.
Update - I simmered the rolls in a sauce made of crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and water (I don't even think I seasoned it - it was the last thing I did before serving Thanksgiving dinner, all right?) and it helped. These were the biggest hit of dinner.