The month of Cheshvan is very much associated with the story of Noah and the flood, but it is Noah’s actions after the waters receded and life on land was re-established that intrigue me. After he got his family and animals off-loaded and settled in, he planted what were said to be the first fruit orchards and vineyards.
The vineyards and subsequent wine making didn’t work out so well for him, leading to drunkenness and the eventual cursing of a grandson, but Noah’s legacy of grapes has served us well in Northern California. In the recipe below I use the fruit, leaves and even the seeds of the grape.
Grape Leaf and Lamb Casserole has the flavor of stuffed grape leaves without the work of making the individual dolmas. Substitute fresh grape leaves for the preserved by simmering them in salted water for 15 minutes, then submerging in cold water and draining. Dry each leaf and snip off any excess stem. They will be ready to use in the casserole; skip recipe directions for soaking in hot water.
Grape Leaf and Lamb Casserole
Serves 4-8 (main course or side dish)
2 Tbs. grape seed or other oil plus extra for greasing dish
18-20 (approx.) large preserved grape leaves packed in brine (see note below)
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup raisins
1 cup slivered and blanched almonds
1/2 lb. ground lamb
2 cups chopped onion
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 cups white long-grain rice (uncooked)
1 1/2 cups chopped tomato
1 Tbs. fresh chopped dill
1 Tbs. fresh chopped mint
2 Tbs. fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
Grape Molasses-Tehina Sauce (see below) or lemon wedges
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of 2-qt. casserole dish. Bring pot of salted water to boil. Turn off heat and add grape leaves. Cover and let sit 4 minutes. Drain. Heat chicken stock in pot until warm. Pour over raisins in a bowl and let soak. In large, dry skillet or sauté pan, toast almonds until golden. Remove from pan.
Add 2 Tbs. oil to pan over medium heat. Brown and crumble lamb. Remove lamb from pan but leave fat. Add onion, sauté until softened. Add garlic, salt, pepper, paprika and cinnamon and sauté until garlic is golden. Quickly stir in rice and sauté until golden and becoming translucent, about 2 minutes.
Remove and reserve 1/4 cup of chicken stock for later use, and add remaining stock with raisins to the pan. Stir well, bring to simmer and cover. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes until liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost cooked through. (Add water if necessary.) Stir in lamb, almonds, tomato, dill, mint and parsley.
Completely cover bottom of casserole dish with grape leaves, overlapping as necessary. Spoon in half of the lamb filling. Cover with another layer of grape leaves. Add remaining filling. Top with layer of grape leaves. Pour remaining chicken stock evenly over top. Cover with lid or foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove top layer of grape leaves. Serve with Grape Molasses-Tahini Sauce or lemon wedges.
For Grape Molasses-Tehina Sauce: Mix 1/4 cup tehina with 2 Tbs. grape molasses and 2 Tbs. warm water until smooth. Grape molasses (sometimes called grape syrup) is available in Middle Eastern markets and some specialty stores. If unavailable, substitute pomegranate molasses.
Note: Directions are for using large preserved grape leaves from a jar. Number of leaves needed will vary depending on size.
Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Josie A.G. Shapiro. Faith blogs about her food at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.