I love to cook something special in the middle of the long working week to kind of break it off. This time, I wanted to make something extra special for good friends who came to visit. I made a true Middle Eastern feast.
“Warak Dawali” is my favorite dish in the whole world. In case you are not familiar with it, it’s rice, meat, garlic and spices wrapped in grape leaves, then they are slowly cooked with lamb or beef, along with that, we also stuffed tomatoes. Mediterranean squash is usually used in this dish but it is not in season and it was impossible to find.
Back home, we used to have our own grape leaves tree, something impossible to have in my smurf-sized apartment in New York, so I have to use bottled leaves. They are not bad but I do have to rinse them well to get rid of the vinegar taste.
I also made baba ganoush, hummus, tabouli salad and labneh cheese. It sounds like a lot of food but very little was left and most importantly, everybody seemed to have enjoyed it.
It is a lot of work but is not at all complicated. The most meticulous part is to roll all of the grape leaves but like I mentioned to my guests during dinner, my satisfaction is to see everybody gathered and enjoying themselves. That’s my pay back.
Find a pita recipe HERE
1 large eggplant
1 glove garlic
1/8 cup tahini
1/4 cup plain yogurt (optional)
the juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil plus more
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Prick the eggplant with a fork and place on a baking sheet. Bake the eggplant until it is soft, about 35 minutes. Let it cool. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, drain off the liquid, and scoop the pulp into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth and transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with parsley and olive oil.
2 tomatoes, diced
1 Persian cucumber, seeded and diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup bulgur wheat
2 parsley bunch, chopped
1/4 olive oil
salt and pepper
Cover the bulgur with water and let it soak for 3 hours or until bulgur is tender, drain the water. In a bowl, add all the ingredients and mix well.
Note: I usually make this salad the day before to let all the ingredients “marinade” Also, I do not add mint but feel free to add some if you like (I would do about 1/4 cup of fresh mint)
For the stuffing:
2 lb ground beef
1 lb uncooked rice
1 sick butter, melted
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground allspice (plus 1 tbsp more for meat)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
salt to taste
1-16oz jar grape leaves (I used this kind), rinse it to get rid of
the vinegar taste.
8 tomatoes, cored, seeded
3 lb beef ribs
2 tomatoes more to slice and
use in between layers
Wash the rice and cover it with hot water, let it stand for 15 minutes. Mean while, season the ribs with salt and 1 tablespoon of allspice, place it on a big pot and set aside. Drain the water of the rice and add ground beef, melted butter, garlic, and spices. Mix (with your hands) until well combined. Now we are ready to stuff the leaves and tomatoes (see picture tutorial on how to stuff the leaves). Add sliced tomatoes on top of the meat then arrange half of the stuffed tomatoes on top. Place the stuffed grape leaves on top of the tomatoes then arrange the other half of the stuffed tomatoes on top (almost like a “lasagna”). Add water to cover and cook over medium heat for 2 1/2 hours.
Note: These recipes feed 12 to 15 people.