In one of my library science classes (back in the dark ages when the internet was only just beginning to expand into everyone’s everyday life), there was a byword we were taught – convergence. It was said with such reverence, almost like a mantra. Of course they were referring to the convergence of technology – computers; phones; digital audio, image and video into one deliverable platform, leading up to our smart phones, tablets and the like.
However, the convergence I’d like to address in this post has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with the convergence of the following three facts. One: the cookbook club The Cookbook Guru is featuring Saha, the Lebanese and Syrian cookbook masterpiece by Greg and Lucy Malouf this month. Two: I am hosting a buffet reception for one of my husband’s colleagues and am in dire need of finger-food recipes. Three: I am keen to cook with my supply of dried porcini mushrooms that I brought back from Italy.
So you can see I was extremely intrigued, paging through Saha for mezze recipes that would be appropriate for the buffet, when I ran across Mushroom-stuffed Vine Leaves (dolmades). I would never have associated mushrooms with dolmades, but the Maloufs have created a vegetarian variation on a Lebanese classic mezze using mushrooms – including those precious dried porcini. And, given the convergence, I was obliged to try.
Mushroom-stuffed Vine Leaves
I have deviated in how the rice is handled – not pre-cooked, but put in raw with the warm cooked mushrooms and then finished swelling in the wrapped vine leaves during the finial stage. I find that pre-cooking the rice, even if it is slightly underdone, creates a soggy congealed mass. The aim is to have individual rice kernels adhering together with the other ingredients in the vine leaf parcel. I have also substituted pine nuts for the pistachio in the original recipe. The Maloufs indicate that the recipe makes about 30, but it is more like double that number – with some filling leftover to stuff peppers, courgettes or tomatoes! What monster vine leaves were they using?
- 80ml olive oil
- 6 large shallots
- 2 cloves of garlic
- large bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
- 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
- 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 120g dried porcini mushrooms
- 500g fresh portobello or potobellini mushrooms
- 220g small grain rice (see note below)
- 50g pine nuts
- 1 fresh tomato or 2 canned plum tomatoes
- salt and pepper
- 60+ vine leaves (see note below)
- 1 teaspoon ground sumac
Soak the porcini mushrooms in about 1 cup of boiling water.
In a large pot, warm the olive oil on low heat. Finely chop the shallots and add to the pot. Chop the herbs (parsley, oregano and thyme) and add these to the shallots once they have begun to turn colour. Add the crushed garlic.
Chop the portobello mushrooms into small coarse pieces. Drain the porcini mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Finely chop the porcini. Add both sets of chopped mushrooms to the herbs and onions in the pot.
When the mushrooms have begun to release their liquid, stirring occasionally, cook until relatively dry. Turn off the heat. Add the skinned, de-seeded and chopped tomatoes and the pine nuts. Test for seasoning. It should be well seasoned; add salt and pepper. Then, add the rice. Stir to mix, put the lid on the pot and set aside for the mixture to cool and the rice to slowly begin to absorb moisture. The rice will continue cooking when the vine leaf parcels are later simmered.
While the mushroom-rice mixture cools, prepare your vine leaves. If you are using fresh – or freshly packed/slightly dried – vine leaves, blanch them in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute and then immediately plunge them in a bowl of cold water. If you are using pre-packed vine leaves in brine, they will need to be soaked to remove some of the salty taste. Pat the leaves dry and prepare them for filling and rolling by laying them shiny side down and, using scissors, nip off any tough stem at the base of the leaf. If any of the leaves are ripped or are too small, set these aside to be used to line the bottom of the pot.
Take a rounded teaspoon of the mushroom-rice mixture and place it near the base of the leaf. Fold the bottom up and over the mixture, then fold over the sides. Keeping the mixture together, roll until you reach the tip of the leaf. Do not pack too tightly as the rice will need some room to continue to swell. Continue the process until you run out of vine leaves or the mixture is used up.
Line a heavy bottomed casserole with the imperfect leaves. Starting at the perimeter, lay the vine leaf parcels, seam side down, around the sides of the pot and continue in concentric circles until you reach the centre of the pot. The parcels should be snug to prevent them from opening while cooking. Continue with a second layer in the same manner, and then a third layer if required. Crumble and put more vine leaves for any space that needs to be filled. Pour on the reserved porcini soaking liquid. Sprinkle on the sumac and add more water to just reach the level of the parcels.
Cover with a ceramic plate. This keeps the parcels in place. Place lid on pot and turn the heat on and bring to a light boil. Reduce the heat to low and let the parcels steam for about 1 hour. Turn off the heat and let them cool in the pot. Remove the parcels and store – sprinkled with a little olive oil – in a container in the refrigerator. They are best when let to sit for at least 24 hours. Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with lemon juice with a few additional lemon wedges tucked in. The Maloufs suggest serving with a sauce made from thick yoghurt spiked with olive oil, garlic, and fresh and dried mint.
Notes on Rice & Vine Leaves:
In the UK, very small-grain rice is often marketed as “pudding rice” for making rather stodgy rice puddings. It is ideal, however, for dolmades – smaller and cheaper than Italian risotto rice or Spanish paella rice, both of which can be substituted.
I used my own vine leaves that had been packaged last year using an old Greek method as described in my July post, Around My Edible Garden. The leaves had lost some of their green colour and had become dry, but still pliable. For this batch, I had used a plastic bottle. To extract the vine leaves, the bottom of the bottle was cut off, allowing me to remove the tightly rolled leaves. This year’s supply of vine leaves was packed in a wide-mouthed glass jar which will simply need to be opened to extract the rolls of leaves.