Sunday, October 10, 2010

grape leaf pie

slice, missing
i think it's fair to say
that this may be one of the
oddest things i've made in
a long time. and you know,
i make some odd things.

six years ago, i was working
at the magazine, living by myself
in a tiny studio apartment and
needed to make a little more money.
i thought about it for a few months,
hesitant to add another job to
my busy schedule. but, when i found
out that the gym i already frequented
five days a week was in search of a
part timer, i jumped at the chance.
the job helped in two ways:
it gave me extra money.
it gave me a free gym membership.

at first, i struggled with my two
identities. it was hard waking up
early to go to the gym for myself,
come home, shower,
pack a bag, go to work,
drive as fast as i could back to the gym
and then dash into the small changing
room that i entered in heels
and dresses and emerged in sneakers,
workout pants and an old camp t-shirt.

but, before i knew it,
it was two years later. i was living
with larry in our two bedroom
apartment, enjoying the relationships
that i had made with the people who
attended the gym and still resenting having
to wake up at 7am every sunday morning
to open the gym, just as much as i disliked
not getting home until 9pm on monday
and tuesday nights.

and then, i decided to go to culinary school
full time and still keep my monday to friday job.
and, i made the decision that in spite of
the fact that i was putting myself into
thousands of dollars of debt, i had no choice
but to walk away from the little bit of money
that helped bridge the gap between
scared and making it.
i was quitting the gym.

telling my never-there boss was a breeze.
it was the gym-goers, who i had formed real
relationships with, that i was dreading addressing.
but, the gym goers, the ones who had spent
two years working out
while discussing recipes with me,
were wonderful
and supportive.

and one of them, linda, asked me a question
that i had never really thought of before,
but has stuck with me everyday since:
can you taste the recipe before you make it?
she elaborated, can you look at a recipe,
read the ingredients, the techniques
and know what you will
be tasting at the very end?

and, i know it sounds strange,
but every time i think of those two
weird transitional years in my life in which i
was food editor by day/gym something-or-other
at night, i think about linda and how
in the end, her question, forcing me to always
critically examine a recipe before making it,
made it all worth it.
lemon zest, basil, mint, walnuts, shallots
and that's why i had to make this
grape leaf pie. i read the headnote provided,
discussing how unusual of a recipe it was.
i read the ingredients,
a combination of:
greek yogurt,
toasted nuts,
lemon zest,
lemon juice
rice flour.
i read that i, the recipe-maker, was to
line the bottom of a dish with soaked
grape leaves, spread them with the
yogurt paste, cover them with more grape
leaves and after brushing with oil and
topping with panko, i was to bake the pie
and then cut it into wedges.
grape leaf-lined pan
folded over
and i, for the life of me, had no idea
what i would see when i peered into that
savory cake.

would it be firm? a solid piece that
cut into beautiful wedges? or would
it have only firmed slightly, still
holding onto some of that squish
that yogurt is famous for, the filling
oozing out of the sides of the slices? or,
after 40 minutes in the oven,
would it be a scoopable mess?
i didn't know. i didn't understand it.
the directions were easy enough.
just before throwing the cake pan
into the oven, i compared my pie to
the picture: it was the spitting image,
just unbaked. 40 minutes was perfect -
the pie came out with a crispy golden
brown top; the house smelled like
a greek restaurant. i stared at it for
10 minutes.
and then, i started to cut.
the top leaves crackled
and lifted from the filling. the bottom
leaves, more tender, sort of clung better.
the filling was sturdy, handling the knife
like a champ.

and still, i don't know how to describe it.
instead, i'll tell give you
this random collection of thoughts:

-the center of the pie was very firm.

-every time i think of something to compare it to,
i want to say that i reminded me a little bit of tempeh,
but i know that that would turn off people who are
anti-meat replacement products and possibly infuriate
tempeh lovers who once they try it, may think
that this pie is nothing like tempeh.

-if i didn't make it, i wouldn't have known that
there was yogurt inside, holding it all together.

-i wish that i had used more herbs.

-even though i thought that the perfect large
grape leaves would look beautiful on top, next
time i would use smaller ones. i think that they
would cover better and not be so hard to cut.

but, still, i liked it.
i know that's hard to accept,
what with me not really able to give
you any information and all.
but i did. it was light and filling
and unusual and actually reheated
pretty well the next day for lunch.

but, i maintain my stance:
this really may be one of the
oddest things i've made in
a long time.*
grape leaf pie
grape leaf pie
adapted from plenty
i followed the concept completely, but i did make changes based on what i like and what i had in the house: eliminating tarragon and parsley, keeping the mint and adding basil, throwing in two cloves of garlic, switching in chopped walnuts for pine nuts and reducing the oil and butter used. the original instructions said to make and bake in a shallow bowl. i opted to use an 8" cake pan, which worked well. i think.

also, the recipe calls for 20-25 grape leaves. i ended up using 12. i wish i had used more on top because as you can see in the picture, as they baked and shrunk a little bit, they exposed the filling. but, i still think the most i would have used was 16. use your judgement.

last thing. because it's so creamy, i always use fat-free greek yogurt. even though i'm sure the recipe intended for a full-fat yogurt to be used, i wanted to go with my normal pick, but i did have my doubts that it was the wrong move. luckily, the store was out, so i opted for 2%, which i think was fine.

15-25 grape leaves (see headnote)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 container (7 ounces) greek yogurt, plus more for serving (see headnote)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
3 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
3 tablespoons thinly sliced mint
1 lemon, grated and juiced
1/2 cup rice flour
3 tablespoons panko
salt and black pepper

heat oven to 375˚f.

place grape leaves in bowl; cover with boiling water. let sit 10 minutes. drain; dry well. using scissors, trim and discard any hard stalks on the bottom of the leaves.

in small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat; add shallots. cook 7 minutes, or until just starting to turn light brown, adjusting heat, if necessary and stirring occasionally. add garlic; cook 1-2 minutes more, or until the shallots and garlic are both golden brown, stirring occasionally. remove from heat; let cool.

whisk together melted butter and remaining olive oil.

cover bottom and sides of 8-inch cake pan with grape leaves, overlapping slightly. using pastry brush, gently brush bottom of leaves with butter-oil mixture. set aside.

in bowl, stir together shallots, yogurt, walnuts, herbs, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and salt and pepper; taste and adjust, if necessary. stir in rice flour. using offset spatula, spread yogurt paste evenly in serving dish, making sure to get the filling all the way to the edges.

fold grape leaves evenly over top of filling. top with remaining grape leaves, overlapping slightly and covering well. brush gently with butter-oil mixture. sprinkle with panko; drizzle with remaining butter-oil mixture.

bake 40 minutes, or until leaves crisp and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. let sit at least 10 minutes. cut into wedges. serve with dollops of yogurt, if desired.**

*just as i finished writing this, larry came in and asked what i was blogging about. when i told him grape leaf pie, he said, that was good. when i looked at him, he said, yes, in retrospect, i liked it a lot. it's not that he hadn't eaten it or even complained about it. he just originally had the same what-is-this? reaction that i did.

**i picked up an extra 7 ounce container of yogurt to serve on the side. while i planned to just dollop it, i had a last minute change of heart, squeezing in lemon juice and adding chopped mint and basil. i'm very glad i went that route. i think it added a very necessary something to the pie.


Ellie said...

What an intriguing recipe! Were the grape leaves the jarred type?

brooke said...

ellie, yes they were jarred. i just carefully separated and then dried them before using.

Colette Zabo said...

How unusual. Looks a lot easier than stuffing & folding each leaf. Thanks for the idea!

Anonymous said...

You talked me into it, I'm going to make this. :) But with fresh grape leaves, is that crazy?