Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Slow Summer Sun

Altona is at the northern most tip of Hamburg. A fairly high latitude. Not quite the artic circle, but not so far away. The summer sun there sets ever so slowly, taking hours to dip down to the horizon and finally slip away, usually in a hazy blue of misty clouds and a lingering twilight, with the evening sky already turning from light baby blue to the deepest indigo. SoCal, on the other hand, is a lot closer to the equator than the artic circle. The evening sun here drops like a brilliant shimmering orange burst below the horizon in a few minutes. You can actually see it go – it’s that fast. Then it’s dark.

In Altona, the part of Hamburg I lived in for some years, they have a wonderful indoor market of sorts, called the Mercado. It’s naturally practical to have the market indoors in Hamburg as you often are looking for somewhere to step in out of the weather, not the other way around. What with the not infrequent rain, wind, snow, and other things that blow in from the North Sea.

This Mercado had an array of stands, much like a farmer’s market, that sold breads, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, wines, meats, etc.. And also a number of ethnic stands with prepared foods. For example the Italian stand with the 5 or 6 kinds of fresh pasta – every day. And several Greek and Turkish stands. As well as a wonderful sushi stand. Plus a really fascinating stand that only sold Turkish style sweets. Things made with pistachios, and dried fruits, and honey, and baklava type things, and who knows what all. Very unusual, for me anyways.

I used to go frequently, and get a random selection of items from the one Turkish stand, called Arkadas. The selection ranged from a dozen types of olives – green, black, stuffed, spicy, salty, etc. – to dozens of vegetables, like marinated eggplant, grilled zucchini, mushrooms, stuffed eggplants and zucchinis, different types of beans in spicy oils, garlic cloves in different kinds of oils, cucumber salads, tomato salads, etc., to dozens of kinds of cheese – focusing on different types of feta cheeses (salty, more salty, even more salty, etc.), goat cheeses, etc., to any sort of seafood – octopus, shrimp, different types of fishes, calamari, etc., again all in various types of spicy marinades or oils. And of course stuffed grape leaves. With rice, or rice and lamb. Humus plain, with red peppers and paprika, with feta cheese and basil, etc. Tzatzikis. And other pastes I don’t have a name for, ones made of spinach, or eggplant. And flat breads, big ones, long ones, little ones. You just move along the stand and point from one thing to the next, until a veritable feast is packed up and ready to go in neat little plastic containers.

And it was all good. I can’t remember anything I got there that was not fantastic. With a bottle of wine, you could take this feast to the little ‘beach’ along the Elba near my apartment, and on the frequently pleasant summer evenings, relax till almost midnight, watching the crowd go by and the sun set. A lot of people spent the night on the beach, with bonfires going everywhere.

I don’t know what made me think of this recently. Since we have nothing remotely like that market here in SoCal. And the weather certainly is different – since it’s usually nice you don’t feel that euphoria on a particularly nice evening. And the beach here closes at dusk, about 8 pm. And bonfires are prohibited except in specially marked areas.

But somehow it has been on my mind lately.

So we went to our local Persian store. And stocked up on grape leaves. And chickpeas. And yogurt. And made a mini-Greek style feast.

Some Dolmades – grape leaves stuffed with either rice or meat (turkey in our case, as no one would eat the lamb but me). And made some humus and tzatziki to go with it. A few olives and some toasted pitas, and the feast was on!

Since I can’t be trusted to follow the simplest directions, we didn’t make the standard rice and meat dolmades. TeenGirl made just rice ones. And I made just meat ones. The normal idea would be to combine rice and meat in the same grape leave. But hey – the path less followed, and all that!

I thought it was great. The tzatziki, although a bit watery, since we couldn’t follow that recipe either, was nice and garlicky. The humus was wonderful. And the little stuffed grape leaves were fantastic bites when dipped in the tzatziki. Even TeenBoy, who had looked a bit ill once he discovered what we had in mind, seemed to really like them

So, I got my mini Greek (quasi Turkish) fix. And was sitting in the dark summer evening in SoCal thinking about that wonderfully slow summer sun in Altona.

Turkey Stuffed Grape Leaves
Recipe adapted by surfindaave
Serves 6-8

3 pounds of ground turkey (or use a mix of beef and pork)
1/2 bunch of fresh parsley, leaves and tender top stems, finely chopped
3 medium ripe tomatoes, grated or chopped in food processor (2-3 seconds)
1 white onion, coarsely grated
11-2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
2 teaspoons of salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 cups chicken broth
about 60 to 70 grape leaves
Tzatziki (recipe follows)

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot, add juice of 1/2 lemon and the salt. Carefully unroll the leaves (do not separate them), place in the boiling water for 3 minutes.

Remove leaves and place them in a bowl and cover with cold water. When cooled, drain in a colander. It is not unusual for some of the outer leaves in the jar or can to be damaged, or to tear while using.

Combine ground meat, parsley, tomatoes, onion, mint, salt, and 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large bowl. Mix well by hand.

Gently separate one leaf and place it shiny side down on a work surface or in the palm of your left hand (right hand for lefties). With your other hand, place a pinch (up to a teaspoon) of the filling on the leaf at the point where the stem joined the leaf. Pinch up the bottom of the leaf over the filling, then each side inward in parallel folds, and roll up the leaf. Roll should be firm, not tight, as the filling will expand during cooking. Repeat until all the filling has been used.

Place stuffed leaves in a heavy-bottomed pot in a single layer. Pour remaining 1-2 cups of broth over the leaves and bring to a boil over high heat. Shake the pot a few times while heating to prevent sticking. When liquid comes to a rolling boil, reduce heat to a simmer cook for 20 minutes partially covered. Serve at room temperature with lemon wedges and tzatziki. Enjoy!

Dolmades – Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves
Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence, the FoodNetwork
Serves 6

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, halved, cored and diced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup long-grain rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (8-ounce) jar grape leaves, rinsed and drained
2 lemons, juiced
Tzatziki (recipe follows)

To make the filling, coat a large saute pan with 1/4 cup of the oil and place over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel and lemon zest and stir until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the pine nuts and rice, saute for 2 minutes, stirring to coat. Pour in just 1/2 cup of the chicken stock and lower the heat. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 10 minutes. Scrape the parboiled rice mixture into a bowl and add the dill and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool. Now on to the grape leaves.
Bring a big pot of water to a simmer. Blanch the grape leaves in the hot water for 5 minutes until pliable. Drain then trim the stems and any hard veins from the leaves. Pat dry with paper towels.
To assemble the dolmades, lay a grape leaf on a work surface, shiny-side down. Put 2 tablespoons of the rice filling near the stem end of the leaf. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and roll up into a cigar – it should be snug but not overly tight because the rice will swell once it is fully cooked. Squeeze lightly in the palm of your hand to secure the roll. Repeat with remaining grape leaves and filling.
Place the dolmades in a large Dutch oven or wide deep skillet, seam-side down in a single layer. Pour the remaining cup of broth, remaining olive oil, and the lemon juice over the dolmades, the liquid should reach halfway up the rolls, add some water if necessary. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until the dolmades are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm, at room temperature or cool.

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