One of the fun things about potlucks is that they can be unpredictable.
Besides the usual items that you might find at one such as meats, cheeses, chips, dips and assorted raw vegetables, there can be soups, sloppy Joes, casseroles and any number of desserts.
We’re having a potluck Wednesday, and I’m bringing something that probably isn’t found on many menus — stuffed grape leaves. The reason for the potluck is that it’s the last day of one of my co-workers, and she requested that I make the grape leaves.
I just happened to have some grape leaves frozen in water in my freezer. I always freeze some of the leaves (about 50 or so per container) so we can have the dish that traces its roots to the eastern Mediterranean over the winter.
I make my stuffed grape leaves by mixing about a pound or so of ground meat (bison), about a cup of brown or white rice, a clove or two of minced garlic, a little flaked onion, some dried mint and cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste.
Then, I place a bit of the mixture on each leaf, roll them up and stick them atop some flat beef bones that are on the bottom of my cast-iron Dutch oven. Next, I mix a 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes and a small can of tomato sauce and pour it around the outside of the Dutch oven, being careful not to put any over the stuffed grape leaves.
Finally, I put a plate on top of the grape leaves (this holds the grape leaves in place while they cook) and cover on the pot. I then cook this on low to medium heat for about 2 to 3 hours.
While the grape leaves are cooking, I mix a bowl of tzatziki, a Greek sauce made of cucumbers, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and a little dill.
Following you will find the tzatziki recipe I like, along with another version of stuffed grape leaves.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
50 grape leaves
4 lamb bones or 6 chicken wings
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of 3 lemons
Stuffing (recipe follows)
Soak fresh grape leaves in hot water for 15 minutes to soften. Remove from water, squeeze out excess moisture and remove stems. Place 1 tablespoon of filling across each leaf. Fold bottom of leaf up, fold both sides in, and roll away from you.
Place lamb bones on the bottom of a saucepan. Arrange stuffed leaves in layers on the top of the bones. Alternate the direction of the layers.
Sprinkle salt over stuffed leaves. Press leaves down by placing an inverted plate on top of the leaves. (This also will hold them in place while they cook.)
Add water to reach the top of the dish. Cover and simmer on a low flame for 40 minutes or until tender.
For the last 10 minutes of cooking, remove the plate and add the juice of three lemons. Serve with lemon wedges and plain yogurt.
2/3 cup long grain rice, rinsed in water
1 pound ground lamb or ground chuck
3 teaspoons butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine stuffing ingredients and mix well.
16 ounces (2 cups) of thick Greek yogurt
4 to 10 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ cup of diced or grated cucumber
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
Prepare all ingredients in advance. Combine oil and lemon juice in a medium mixing bowl. Fold the yogurt in slowly, making sure it mixes completely with the oil. Add the garlic, according to taste, and the cucumber. Stir until evenly distributed. Garnish with a bit of green and serve well chilled.
Yield: About 2½ cups.