If this is the year you decide to take a break from cooking turkey, cook this instead! From Reem Kassis’ new book ‘The Palestinian Table, Authentic Modern Middle Eastern Home Cooking – 150 delicious, easy-to-follow recipes inspired by three generations of family tradition’ published by Phaidon.
‘Long before wrapping meat and fish in grape leaves became popularized in the West, it was a technique used across Palestine and the Levant to add flavor and preserve the moisture of meat during cooking’, says Reem Kassis about this recipe. ‘This particular variation, which wraps minced meat patties in the leaves, is considered one of the signature dishes of Jerusalem. It is often reserved for special gatherings or dinner parties because it looks so impressive.’
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45–55 minutes
2¼ lb/1 kg coarsely ground (minced) beef, lamb, veal, or a combination)
3½ oz/100 g pita bread or white bread with crust removed, roughly torn
1 onion, quartered
1 tomato, quartered
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Nine Spice Mix (see below)
2 teaspoons salt
45–50 fresh grape leaves, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute (if using jarred, soak in cold water for 15 minutes then rinse thoroughly to remove any brine flavor)
3–4 potatoes, sliced into 3/4-inch/2-cm rounds
3–4 tomatoes, sliced into 3/4-inch/2-cm rounds
For the sauce
2½ cups (1 pint/600 ml) broth (stock) or water
2–3 tablespoons tomato paste (purée)
1 teaspoon Nine Spice Mix (see below)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling salt and black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas Mark 5. Put about a quarter of the meat into a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, cover the bread in water and leave to soak for a couple of minutes.
2. Meanwhile, put the onion, tomato, parsley, olive oil, Nine Spice Mix, and salt into a food processor and process to a coarse consistency. Drain the bread, squeezing any excess moisture out with your hands, and add to the food processor, pulsing to evenly combine. Alternatively, very finely chop or grate everything by hand and mix together with the bread, mashing with a spoon as you mix.
3. Pour the mixture over the set-aside meat in the bowl and mix very well with your hands until fully combined. Add in the remaining meat and mix very gently with your hands, just until evenly distributed. Once you’ve added in the remaining meat, avoid over mixing in order to retain the coarse texture that will give the patties their fluffy texture.
4. Divide the mixture into about 15 portions. On a clean work surface, overlap 2–3 of the grape leaves, vein side up, (if the leaves are very large then use only 1) and place one portion of meat in the center. Gently shape into a round patty and fold in the sides of the leaves around it. Repeat with the remaining meat and leaves. Set aside.
5. In a small mixing pitcher (jug), combine the broth (stock) with the tomato paste (purée), Nine Spice Mix, 1 teaspoon of salt, and the olive oil and set aside.
6. In a round oven dish, arrange the grape leave parcels upright at a slight angle with potato and tomato slices between them. Pour the sauce mixture over, drizzle with some more olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
7.Cover the dish with aluminium foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes, or until the potatoes have started to brown. Remove from the oven and serve with vermicelli rice.
NINE SPICE MIX
I can still remember walking through Jerusalem’s old city as a child with my mother, going from vendor to vendor and buying different whole spices in bulk. My mother would roast the spices when we got home and the house would be drunken on the fresh, earthy aromas. For years after I left home, she continued doing this, always sending me a jar of freshly roasted and ground spices. Today I roast my own, but when I do, the smell always transports me back to that time.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Makes about 3 ½ oz/100 g
6 tablespoons allspice berries
6 cassia bark or cinnamon sticks
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 blades of mace
½ nutmeg, crushed
1. Place all the ingredients in a large skillet (frying pan) over medium-low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon periodically to ensure the spices do not burn, until you begin to smell the aroma of the spices, about 10 minutes.
2. Remove the pan from heat and set aside to cool completely, about 1 hour. This step is crucial because if the spices are not cooled properly, they will form a paste when ground rather than a powder.
3. Place all the roasted spices into a heavy-duty spice grinder and grind until you achieve a fine powder consistency. Store the spice mix in an airtight container. It will keep for several months although the aroma will fade with time.
Note: This spice mix is featured in many of the dishes in this book, lending them a uniquely Palestinian flavor. It is my mother’s own blend but feel free to adjust to suit your taste, or you can substitute with store-bought baharat or Lebanese seven spice mix for an equally tasty, albeit slightly different, flavour profile.
You can buy The PALESTINIAN TABLE by Reem Kassis, published by Phaidon here. It makes a fabulous Christmas gift.