Friday, January 27, 2012

Paris and Falafels

My mom and I mentioned once that we'd like to have nights where we pick an ethnicity of food and cook from that category so that we can try different culture's cuisines. So far we have had a Spanish tapas night, an Asian meal and the other night we cooked Witt's favorite genre; Greek. I like Greek food too, especially falafels. My friend, Carol Anne, introduced me to falafels in Paris of all places. We were walking down Boulevard Saint Michel at night, the best place ever to be at night, and just before you get to the bridge where you can see the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame and the Palais de Justice all at once, there are little side streets, full of little restaurants and food stands. I loved the buttery chick-pea balls in the pita with the tangy toppings of pickled beets and tzatziki sauce.

One day when my family visited me in Paris we went on a wild hunt for a certain museum that I hadn't been to in the 9th arrondissement, the Jewish quarter. This was halfway into the week and everyone was a little tired from walking everywhere and the Paris cloudy spring weather was not very energizing. I got us lost and in the middle of a street that was starting to blend into every other street, it began to rain. I was hungry and irritated and tired of everyone asking me if I knew where I was going when suddenly we rounded a corner and came upon a falafel stand. I was excited for them to try my new favorite food so I suggested we get lunch. My parents were game but my sisters Cate, Nan and Mary were grumbling a little as fried chick pea balls with picked vegetables didn't appeal to them. We loaded ourselves down with toppings, tzatziki sauce and hummus and as we bit into the first warm and savory bite of pita wrapped around the falafel balls, I swear the rain stopped and the sun started to peak out of the clouds.

Gypsy Slow Down

We began walking again and suddenly came upon a beautiful cathedral that I'd never seen before (I promise this really happens in Paris, you just round corners...) so we stopped to check it out. Sitting on a bench nearby were two homeless men, chatting among themselves. They had tin cups next to their feet and their faces and clothes were dirty but I remember they seemed to be relaxing on the bench and in good spirits. One of my sisters went over and gave her falafel to one of the men. He thanked her profusely and immedetiantly started breaking it in half to share with his friend. This touched my other sister and she gave hers to the other man. I'm not thoroughly convinced they didn't have other motives than generosity, like getting rid of the falafel so they didn't have to eat it! But I loved seeing their generous spirit.

    When we got together the other night my mom made the falafels and I wanted to try stuffed grape leaves. I found a recipe online, from allrecipes, but I added a few ingredients so I am not sure I can claim that they were totally authentic. I thought I remembered having stuffed grape leaves with meat inside and so I added ground beef. I'm sure my friend Katerina could tell me whether this is how they do it in Greece!

They turned out so delicious, tangy and lemony with just the right amount of richness from the rice, beef and feta. My dad said they were now on his list of favorite foods. The grape leaves themselves were surprisingly easy to work with. They come brined, in a jar, and I forgot to rinse mine but it didn't seem to matter though the recipe did say to do that. I used quick rice and it worked well.

Stuffed Grape Leaves 
      2 cups quick cook long-grain brown rice (the kind that cooks in ten minutes).
      1 pound ground beef
      1 large onion, chopped
      2 cloves garlic, minced
      1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
      1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
      2 quarts chicken broth
      3/4 cup fresh lemon juice, divided
      60 grape leaves, drained
      Feta for sprinkling
      Hot water as needed
      Olive oil

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the ground beef until browned. Drain and add back to pan. Saute with the onions and 2 tablespoons olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until onion is soft. Add the rice and saute for another 5 minutes.

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Pour in 1 quart of broth, reduce heat to low and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until rice is almost cooked. Add dill and mint and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 of lemon juice and remove from heat.Take one leaf, shiny side down, and place 1 teaspoon of the rice mixture at the bottom (stem) end of the leaf. 

Gypsy Slow Down

Fold both sides of the leaf towards the center, roll up from the broad bottom to the top, and place into a 4-quart pot. Repeat with all leaves, leaving no gaps as leaves are placed in pot (to prevent from opening while cooking). 

Gypsy Slow Down

Sprinkle with remaining lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Pour chicken broth over all to cover grape leaves. Cover pot and simmer for about 1 hour (do not boil, because this will make the stuffing burst out of the leaves). Remove from heat, remove cover and let cool. Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with feta and serve.

Gypsy Slow Down
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