Ghoreh to Grape to Dolmeh | A Food Odyssey
Hi and hope you all had a delicious Thanksgiving! We had a pretty snow day on Thanksgiving day here in Tehran and I was torn between feeling rapt with the enjoyment of it in the here-and-now and also acutely aware of the significance of the day and feeling distinctly homesick for friends and family on the other side of the ocean. Not to mention craving turkey and pumpkin pie and of course stuffing! Oh yummy yummy stuffing. But actually do you know what edible thing it is that I truly and deeply miss the most? Avocados! Nice, ripe California avocados. Imported and home-grown avocados can be found here but they don’t look the same, don’t have the same texture and they definitely don’t taste the same. It’s a bit tragic. I daydream about daily gorging myself silly on avocados once I finally make a visit to the homestead. One of these days!
Anyhow, trying to get back in the blogging groove and figuring out where to pick up the much scattered thread of narrative. When in doubt, let’s go with a story and a recipe. In the last post I mentioned that I’ve started a digital marketing company called Zeerak. What I didn’t get to tell you is that Zeerak is one of several companies in a private accelerator slash incubator called MAPS. Now MAPS itself is outfitted in an old, traditional house with a big yard in the heights of “Darband” — a neighborhood in the north of Iran that is basically at the foot of the mountains. Quite scenic.
Now another thing I can tell you is that this house is still also the residential home of the founder and the father of the founder of MAPS and in addition, a sweet hardworking family (husband, wife and 3 rambunctious children) also live here who take care of the house and the household and the yard and the family. Also 6 days a week, Aazam Khanum, the lady of the caretaker family, makes a delicious lunch for all of us ravenous and stressed out motley crew gang of the multiple startups of MAPS. Sometimes our headcount is 30 or more! A veritable army! Yet every day at 1:30, lunch is served – nourishing and delicious and served with either salad or fresh herbs — and Aazam Khanum feeds our savage bunch with a graceful feast. (Using huge pots! I should document that one day as well.)
The spacious, multi-tiered and charming yard of this equally charming house is home to a multitude of fruit trees. Winter came early this year and this week we’ve already had snow a few times but just a little while ago persimmons were ripening on the branches of trees; a few months ago there were black mulberries whose very juicy existence were in my mind a very convincing raison d’etre for being alive; and in early spring, the grapevine in the yard sported bright green leaves and clusters of unripe grape leaves.
As a food blogger, this was an opportunity not to be missed to make stuffed grape leaves (dolmeh ‘ye barg ‘e mo) and Aazam Khanum kindly obliged and agreed to make a big batch to feed our gang and also let me document her cooking and gave me her recipe. She is a sweet and spirited woman, with a open and friendly intelligent face. I truly wish I could share a few photos but she adamantly prefers to stay away from the cameras. Luckily though, we can for sure show off the actual labor of her work, the beautiful dolme and share the recipe.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
- fresh grape leaves (we used 50, you can use more or less)
- 1 kilogram ground meat
- 1 -2 onions (finely chopped, or grated)
- 2 cups rice (cooked till al dente)
- 2 cups split pea (cooked till al dente(
- 1 kilogram of finely chopped mixture of fresh herbs (sweet fennel; leek, parsley, mint and basil); OR; 3/4 of cup dried mixture of these herbs
- 4 – 5 tablespoons of tomato paste (more or less to taste)
- turmeric, salt & pepper (seasoning to taste)
- 3 cup mixture of water, lemon juice and oil
Gently rinse the fresh grape leaves. In a roomy pot stack the leaves — the smooth, soft side facing down (the veiny rough part facing the top) and fill the pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a rapid boil and boil for 30 -60 seconds (or more or less, do a test) till the leaves soften and become pliable to touch. (Halfway through, you may have to use a spatula to re-position the stack upside down to avert overcooking the bottom layer and under-cooking the top layer of leaves.) Remove pot from heat, drain leaves, rinse with cold water to stop further cooking, drain again, spread leaves on a tray, leave to air dry.
In a roomy skillet, sautee onions. Next, add ground meat and sautee till cooked. Add rice and split peas and mix well again. Now add the herbs (fresh or dried) mix well and sautee, then add with the tomato paste and mix well. This is your stuffing mixture.
Take 2 fresh grape leaves, layered rough-side-up on top of each other, and place in the palm of your hands. Take a dollop of stuffing, place in the center of the leaves, and wrap the leaves around the stuffing. (You can make a cigar shape, or for an authentic Persian style dolmeh, you should try the pillow shape, as demonstrated in the video below.) Continue this process till you run out of either stuffing or grape leaves.
Line the bottom of a roomy pot with a layer of fresh grape leaves. Arrange the stuffed grape leaves – the open part of the wrapped bundle on the bottom – in the pot and layer on top of each other in a pyramid row. Add the lemon juice, water and oil mixture to the pot. (Note: if you end up with 3 layers of grape leaves in the pot, make sure the liquid reaches up to the 2nd level. If you end up with 2 layers of stuffed leaves, the liquid should reach only up to the 1st level.) Place a plate on top of the dolmeh to keep everything in place and close the pot’s lid. Cook on low-medium heat for an hour or two or longer till dolmeh is thoroughly cooked.
Layer a serving tray with fresh grape leaves as a decorative garnish. Arrange cooked grape leaves dolmeh in the tray. Serve with yogurt and soft bread. Yummy!
Make it, enjoy it, and nooshe jaan نوش جان!