Lots of attention has been paid to people who cook their way through the indelible Mastering the Art of French Cooking by the one and only Julia Child. I am, however, still waiting for word that Viola Davis will be portraying me in the made-for-TV movie about my love affair with Ottolenghi’s Plenty.
Spending any amount of time with the Mediterranean palate is really an exercise in permutation (n! for my Algebra 1 fans out there)– you will always be successful if you combine tomatoes, spinach, pine nuts, garlic, cheese and olive oil in varying proportions. For me, this is what makes Greek food so fun to make: it’s more about the process and less about the precision–unlike some cuisines, which demand that you to measure your flour out to the 0.01 gram and are personified by delicate, breathy white women in major Hollywood motion pictures. I shall say no more.
But with traditional standards as good as classic Greek dishes (um helllooo steaming hot creamy cheese layered between olive-oil-ridden flaky dough), what’s the point of innovation? If Greek cuisine can stand the test of time along with the best of Hellenic exports (Democracy, Socratic Method, and Jennifer Aniston), why mess with a good Greek thing?
Well, I’ll tell you why. Because then this Ottolenghi fellow can come in and completely blow your hair back–this is a man who is not Greek, who eats meat, and believes very strongly in gluten’s place at the table and yet he is killing the gluten-free/vegetarian/Greek food game. Socrat-who?
I made his grape leaf, herb, and yogurt pie last night and it took all the willpower in me (which is, admittedly, not much) not to place a late-night international phone call to JetSet Kef for the third time this week. HOW HAVE I NOT THOUGHT OF GRAPELEAVES AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR PHYLLO DOUGH BEFORE? This is probably the easiest dish I’ve ever seen that uses grapeleaves, which are known to be finicky and annoying to manage. So if you’ve had a jar of grapeleaves in your pantry just WISHING they could be smothered in Greek yogurt and oil, now’s the time to jump on it!
Ottolenghi’s Grape Leaf, Herb & Yogurt Pie
- 20-25 grape leaves (I found this jar at Whole Foods, and I’ve seen canned varieties near the olives at Harris Teeter and the fancy Safeways)
- 2-3 cups boiling water
- 4 shallots, finely chopped
- 1.5 TBS unsalted butter, melted
- 1 c Greek yogurt (FIBBYDY)
- 2.5 TBS pine nuts
- 1/2 TBS tarragon, finely chopped
- 3 TBS fresh dill, chopped
- 4 TBS fresh mint, chopped
- zest of 1 lime
- 1 TBS lemon juice
- black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 c rice flour (look in your baking aisle- seems like almost everyone sells the Bob’s Red Mill brand now)
- 3 TBS breadcrumbs (I used GF)
1. Preheat oven to 375F and put about water on to boil. Roll out the leaves so you have a flat stack of grapeleaves and place them in a shallow rimmed dish or bowl (I used a pie plate). Cover with boiling water and leave for 10 minutes.
2. Remove leaves from water and peel them off of the pile one at a time. Place them on a dish towel in a single layer to dry (it gets too messy if you use a paper towel–trust me). Try your best to avoid tearing them, as full leaves will make a better “crust” later. Use scissors to trim the hard stalk at the bottom of each leaf.
3. Heat 1 TBS of oil in a saute pan. Saute the shallots over medium heat until light brown. Throw in the pine nuts as soon as you notice some browning to toast lightly. Once the shallots are all a golden brown, remove from heat and let cool.
4. In a round, shallow, ovenproof dish that is about 8-inches in diameter (apparently Ottolenghi’s a picky one), layer 1/3-1/2 of your grape leaves along the bottom and up the sides. The leaves can hang over the dish rim. Mix together the melted butter and 2 TBS olive oil. Use a pastry brush or your fingers to spread about 2/3 of this mixture over the leaves, all the way to their ends.
5. In a small bowl, mix together the shallots, pine nuts, yogurt, herbs, zest, and lemon juice. Season with pepper to taste. Add the rice flour and mix completely, until you have a homogenous paste. Spread mixture evenly throughout the dish– careful not to disturb your leaf crust too much!
6. Fold any overhanging leaves back over the yogurt mixture. Cover the rest of the filling with remaining grapeleaves, allowing them to overlap slightly- I had 3 or 4 left over and that’s a-okay. Brush the leaves with remaining butter/olive oil. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and drizzle with remaining TBS of olive oil.
7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until leaves are crisp and breadcrumbs are brown. Remove from oven and let rest for at least ten minutes–but, like most casserole-type dishes, this is exponentially better (n!) if you let it sit overnight. Serve with a dollop of yogurt if you feel so inclined.