One of the niftiest – and most unforeseen – things about starting a food-centric blog is how often people reach out to invite you to learn,cook and eat with them. Last night, I took advantage of one such invitation and attended a small gathering of women who came together to learn how to roll stuffed grape leaves, share conversation and learn a little bit about how to make good Arabic food.
My friend Hadeel (known as @gazawia on Twitter) loves food and her passion no doubt originated from her amazing mama. She was so kind to extend the invitation to a handful of us and I feel very privileged to have learned a few tricks of the trade from women who know what good food looks like. I am even more appreciative of the fact that I met a few incredible women that I hadn’t known before and became inspired by the energy in the room.
I genuinely understand now why my mother never cooked the tedious meals alone – it’s boring otherwise. Rolling grape leaves is an arduous process; especially when it’s being done for a large number of people. The act of snipping the stems, laying out the leaf, stuffing the leaf and then rolling is monotonous and tiresome. But the work is instantly transformed when good conversation is added into the mix.
I am also still trying to digest how significantly dishes vary by the culture of one’s family or their city of origin. For instance, I recall my mom and aunts making grape leaves one of two ways. They either stuffed them with a rice/lamb mixture or they opted for the vegetarian version (siyami) which is a mixture of rice, tomatoes, onions, mint, parsley, lemon, oil, salt and pepper. Sometimes they would cook the grape leaves in a tomato broth and other times they’d almost steam them dry and serve with laban (yogurt) for dipping. We grew grape leaf vines in the backyard of my childhood home, so I have fond memories of helping my mom pick the leaves. I remember being very careful not to pick ones that had succumbed to the wrath of a hungry creature.
Once the rolling was done, my mother would line the bottom of the pan with oil-treated grape leaves to help prevent the bottom layers from sticking. I learned last night that you could also use potatoes to line the bottom of the pot and they are apparently delicious to eat as well. Who knew?? I also learned that apparently the concept of siyami rice for dishes like grape leaves or stuffed squash originated from Christian Palestinians (like me) as an alternative to meat-heavy dishes during Lent.
It was so much fun to share memories and swap ideas. I had a wonderful time and I’m actually hoping to find a group of lovely ladies who might up for a monthly sort of cooking pow-wow in the future. Any takers?