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March 2012 COTM: The Olive and the Caper: Drinks; Small Dishes; Savory Pies

Please use this thread to discuss the recipes in the chapters on Drinks; Small Dishes; and Savory Pies (pages 4 - 113).

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  1. Mussels in White Wine with Shallots and Basil, p.69

    This is pretty much the same as umpteen other Mediterranean recipes (French, Italian) for mussels steamed in white wine, but that's not a ding. Why argue with a good thing?

    I made one-third of the given amount, with 1 lb. mussels just as a main dish for myself (the recipe is intended as an appetizer for 6). White wine, coarsely chopped shallots, minced garlic, chopped parsley, fresh or dried thyme (I used dried), and salt and pepper are brought to a boil, and cleaned mussels are added. Pot is covered and all is cooked until the mussels are opened; she says 8 min., but mine were done in 6. All is spooned out of the pot and shredded basil leaves are scattered over.

    The result was just what I expected: simple but delicious, with sweet mussels and savory liquid, aromatic and flavorful from the wine, seasonings, and mussels' juice, to be spooned and sopped up with bread. A satisfying quick dinner.

    1. Grape Leaves Stuffed with Nuts, Currents, and Raisins p.47

      In preparation for a meze-filled evening this weekend, I made these little packages ahead of time to lesson the load a bit. I'm glad that I did, because this was a disaster.

      Being months away from meditteranean-type climates, I used jarred grape leaves as my wrapper. I haven't made dolmades before, but I really thought that the leaves were supposed to be blanched or at least rinsed before using, but there was not a single mention of this in the recipe (or any others involving vine leaves). I chose to thoroughly rinse the leaves before commencing, after reading many, many other versions that had one do so.
      For the filling: arborio rice is sauteed in olive oil with onion, garlic, lemon zest, and pine nuts until onion is translucent. Retsina-plumped currants and raisins are added in, along with leftover wine. Total cooking time, about 8 minutes. Author states that rice will not be cooked through. Rice was still very raw. Stir in chopped mint and dill.
      The filling is then rolled in the grape leaves, about 1/2 T per leaf. Rolling was simple as the leaves were pretty resilient. I got about 30 little parcels, which wasn't enough to cover the bottom of my 10'' leaf-lined pan, though the author mentions 2 or even 3 layers of dolmades in a medium size skillet. Water is poured in just to cover the top layer, sprinkled with lemon juice, and a plate (I used the bottom of my springform pan, with a bowl o' water on top) is used to weight it all down.
      Simmer until rice is tender, about 1 hour, testing to make sure rice is tender. Hah! After one hour, I tested a packet, and the rice was still crunchy raw. I simmered it for an additional half hour, and foolishly assumed that it would be enough time, so I took it off the heat without testing. The next morning, I tried one of the leafy cigars, and the rice was still terribly underdone. Back into the pot. I simmered for an extra half hour, but by now the leaves were starting to fall apart in the water, and my filling was floating around everywhere. By the time I pulled everything out of the pot, the packages were so waterlogged and mushy that they were barely edible, let alone company-worthy.
      You know, if the instructions were more accurate, this would have been an excellent recipe. What I tasted was fantastic. It was so tasty, in fact, that I am going to try this again, and just follow my instincts and pre-cook the rice most of the way through with the other ingredients before filling. Here's hoping.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Allegra_K

        I am going to have to look at this recipe. I have made dolmades for years from a different cookbook, and never pre-cooked the rice. However, I have always blanched the grape leaves, a tedious step at best.

        1. re: smtucker

          Same here. I've used a Claudia Roden recipe for a couple of decades which calls for uncooked rice (the meat is also uncooked in the meat version). The leaves are soaked in hot water, then cold. But, they cook for about 2 hours. They always come out perfect and the leaves hold up well. So there is something strange going on here.
          I also have used a Joyce Goldstein recipe in which the rice goes in raw. It calls for 30 minutes of cooking, which wasn't long enough, as I recall.
          Sorry about your disaster Allegra! We'll have to get this figured out!

          1. re: L.Nightshade

            Well, geez, I wonder what the heck I did wrong here. Maybe my rice is too old? Or perhaps the chilling and then re-simmering of the leaves was a bad choice. Version 2.0 is in the works, so I guess I'll see!

            1. re: Allegra_K

              It doesn't sound like *you* did anything wrong. I would be more suspect of ingredients maybe? Or even the recipe. The recipes I have used call for a considerable amount olive oil to be added to the water when cooking. Perhaps that would change the boiling point? Or something?

              1. re: L.Nightshade

                Hmm, I don't know. I've just had a really off cooking day today. Made 3 things out of this book and somehow *nothing* turned out the way it was supposed to. I can't stand when something I make doesn't work out. I just want to throw everything out the window and shun making food for the rest of eternity. But eventually I get hungry. Heh. Luckily the total screw-ups are pretty few and far between. Tomorrow is another day!

                1. re: Allegra_K

                  I've had those kind of days myself. Stick to your inner Scarlett.

                  1. re: Allegra_K

                    Oh no. I'm sorry you're having "off" results with this book. I'm starting to think this isn't the month for me to jump back into COTM. The early reports are kind of mixed.

                    ~TDQ

              2. re: L.Nightshade

                Interesting. I am a Sephardic Jew and I grew up eating dolmas. They were pretty much a staple on every party platter I have ever seen. After reading above that you don't precook your rice, I started reviewing my recipes. All the dolma (aka Yalangi Yaprak) recipes I am aware of call for par cooking the rice before assembling and then cooked a second time. The two I looked at called for cooking the rice for 15-20 minutes until the water was absorbed. Then assemble and cook again for 30-40 minutes. I wonder if this is just a Sephardic thing. Do all of you out there stuff your rice into the leaves while it is raw?

                It sounds like the recipe at hand calls for approximately the same cooking time but I think cooking the rice ahead allows the flavors of the onions and whatever else is mixed in with the rice to marry before stuffing them inside the grape leaf.

            2. re: Allegra_K

              Try using Uncle Ben's Converted Rice -- cooks up much better in vine leaves than other rices. (I do not precook the rice.)
              I never rinse/blanch my grape leaves; I like the extra flavor the brine provides.

              1. re: Allegra_K

                So disappointing when disaster strikes. I am a little bit worried that the recipes in the book are not as thoroughly tested as they might be. Am I judging too soon?

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    I don't know if you're judging too soon greeneggsandham, because I have a similar sense of dread. Seems we just can't get a break with Greek COTM's! I wasn't happy with the Kochilas one we tried, either.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      I was so excited when I got this book, but got so busy that I never cooked from it on my own. Now I've tried 3 things, and have had mixed results. Like you, I wasn't that thrilled with Kochilas. We know Greece has some amazing food - lets hope things get better with this book.

                      1. re: LulusMom

                        Crossing fingers. I will forge ahead and hope for the best. I was actually pretty happy with the one recipe that I have made so far, but I think that is in part due to trusting my instincts in terms of salting and cooking time rather than following the recipe to a T. I only wish that I had followed my instinct of draining off the extra chicken fat after browning to have potentially jumped it up from good to very good.

                        My sense of the book now is that I will cook the things that sound good to me, but feel free to modify and adjust as I go.

                        1. re: greeneggsnham

                          I think that is the right way to go. I'm going to do the same.

                          1. re: greeneggsnham

                            I would hate to think that a book like this hasn't had all of it's recipes tested, but it's starting to look that way. I read through the reviews on Amazon, a lot of the positive reviews are from people who like the layout, stories, etc. It doesn't appear as if many of them have actually cooked from the book.
                            I guess we'll all be using our own best judgement in cooking from this book. Hope the reports get better!

                  2. re: Allegra_K

                    I grew up on stuffed grape leaves. And was the only one who would make them. My parents friends' would pay me to make it for them, no one wanted the bother.

                    A couple of issues I see is-not sure about arborio rice. We always used Carolina. I never parboil the leaves, I parcook the rice only and it needs about 1 1/2-2 hours of cooking time.
                    Also, I always place a dish on top of the stuffed grape leaves and this helps with the mushy factor. And finally they really need to cool overnight to tighten up. Once you get the hang of it, it really is simple.

                  3. Grape Leaves Stuffed with Nuts, Currents, and Raisins p.47
                    Version 2.0

                    Round two with the Dolmadakia went much better now that I knew what not to do. In her recipe, Ms. Hoffman lists a variation that mixes cooked rice with the filling ingredients. Instead of doing that, when I was sauteeing the rice with the onions, currants, etc, I added some additional water, covered, and cooked the rice to nearly al dente. After the rolling and filling, I probably simmered the packages for 30-40 minutes, and all was pleasantly cooked and delicious.
                    I really enjoyed the lemon zest in the filling, which gives a lovely concentrated lemon flavour without the tartness of too much juice. The re-hydrated dried fruits were welcome bits of sweetness in amongst the mix, and I appreciated the subtle crunch of the pine nuts much more now that it wasn't competing with the rice for texture (although at $7.00 per 100 grams, I think that next time I'll use slivered almonds or another, less precious seed) .

                     
                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Allegra_K

                      I'm glad you had better luck the second time around!

                      ~TDQ

                    2. Little Herbed Meatballs p.52

                      Prepared these little morsels for a meze platter, and they were one of the better items on the table.
                      This is mostly just a standard meatball recipe with a panade, onion, etc, but with some chopped herbs like mint, parsley and oregano tossed in to give more of a greek flair. I used beef, though lamb is also suggested, which I think would have paired better with the mint than the choice I used. The mint flavour was quite prominent in the meatballs, more so than I would have imagined, not necessarily a bad thing, but not my favourite either. I think I would next time up the oregano and decrease the mint. The meat mixture also called for some grated kefalotyri (pecorino romano in my case), but not enough, so the nutty cheese flavour didn't sing like it could have. I made the concoction a day ahead and then rolled just before cooking.
                      For the frying, the meatballs are to be rolled in a coating. The author suggests crushed hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, or either fine or coarse bulgur. I used hazelnuts for a portion and medium ground bulgur for the remainder. For the bulgur wheat, there is no mention of soaking or parboiling the grain,and the meatballs are to be cooked in the oil for 4 minutes, which is not nearly enough time to soften the bulgur *at all*. So half of my meatballs were covered in an inedible tooth-cracking layer. It was bad. May I suggest finely ground bulgur for any others using this recipe.
                      The hazelnut meatballs were decent, nice and moist inside with a tasty crunch on the exterior.
                      I do have a lot of leftover balls of crunchy meat though, so I'm hoping to use a sauce from this book to simmer the texture down to a manageable degree.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Allegra_K

                        I was looking at this recipe, thanks for trying it out first. I will make note to use fine bulgur should I try this. I hope you can find a way to repurpose the crunchy meatballs (inedible tooth-cracking layer- sorry to hear, but the description made me chuckle.)

                      2. Field Greens, Fennel, and Ouzo Pie, p. 93

                        This is a variation on spanikopita, using different greens. Instead of scallions, parsley, and dill, it is seasoned with onion, parsley, dill, fennel fronds, and a bit of ouzo.

                        The filling is made by sautéing chopped onion with minced parsley, dill, and fennel fronds (I used about double the called-for amounts of these), along with a bit of uncooked white rice. This is combined with eggs, crumbled feta, ouzo, salt (I also added pepper), and blanched and drained leafy greens, "preferably a mix of sharp and buttery" (I used chard, beet greens, and spinach), along with optional chopped capers (which I used). The pie is put together in the usual way, layering sheets of filo brushed with olive oil or melted butter (I used olive oil), then the filling and more filo, and is baked until golden. I didn't score the top of the pie before baking.

                        This was delicious. It is obviously very similar to spanikopita (which I love), but I really liked the flavor of the heartier, nuttier greens in it. I can't say that the fennel flavor was very prominent, recipe title notwithstanding, and I think one would need to use more than the 1 tablespoon of ouzo called for to make it jump out.

                        Rather than having this as a mezze, it was a main dish, served with String Beans with Shallots, White Wine, and Fennel Seeds (report: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8364... ) and Beet Tzatziki (report: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8364... ), followed by Walnut Cake with Coffee Syrup (report:http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8364... ).

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          I have this on my to-try list, and was thinking of serving it as a main course too. With two adults and a child, how many sides do you think are necessary? I see you made quite a few. I was thinking maybe serving it with a soup.

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            I think it's really just a matter of rounding out the meal, because no matter what, you will have leftovers (a good thing - it reheats and recrisps very well in the oven or toaster oven). With the one vegetable side and tzatziki I served, three adults ate about half of it, including each having a smaller piece for seconds.

                            I would definitely recommend increasing the herbs, as I did, and think at least doubling the ouzo would be a good idea.