Many people in the western world think of stuffed grape leaves as being Greek in origin. Persia and Arabia are a source of plenty of traditional stuffed grape leaf recipes.
Fresh cheese is popular in the middle east. Some of the earliest cheeses in history are from this region. Goat, sheep and cow's milk fresh cheese can found in nearly every Persian and Arabic market. American mediterranean markets stock many cheeses from this region.
Saffron is one of the most sought after spices of them all. The health benefits of saffron are astounding. There many varieties of saffron and some can be quite pricy. The lower the price does not always mean the lower in quality. Safflower saffron is very cheap, but a couple extra pinches are required to deliver a nice saffron flavor. Higher price crocus sativa saffron only requires a small pinch.
Za'atar roasted sesame seed and wild thyme spice mixture has been popular since the days of ancient Egypt. Za'atar spice mix can be found in Arabic markets everywhere. Pre-mix za'atar can contain a long list of spices in the recipe. Pre-mix za'atar spice mix is a bargain price, when compared to purchasing each ingredient separately.
Khubz Arabi is pita bread. Persian style pickled vegetables are commonly served with meals or as a mezze item. There is a wide variety of Persian pickle products that are available in middle eastern markets.
Keep in mind that most middle eastern food is finger food. Sharing a plate of food that is placed on a fancy woven fabric mat on the ground, while sitting on pillows or on the floor and eating with fingers is a traditional social style of dining! It is fun to dine with fingers instead of utensils too!
Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice Stuffing:
The rice is cooked to a "risotto texture" for this recipe.
Soak 3/4 cup of basmati rice in water for one hour.
Rinse the rice twice with cold running water.
Place the rice in a sauce pot.
Add 1 1/4 cups of water.
Place the sauce pot over medium high heat.
Add 3 pinches of turmeric.
Add sea salt and black pepper.
Add 1 minced garlic clove.
Add 1 or 2 pinches of saffron.
Bring the liquid to a boil.
Reduce the temperature to low heat.
Cover the pot with a lid.
Simmer the rice, till it becomes fully cooked.
Heat 1 cup of water in a saute pan over medium low heat.
Add 3/4 cup of the saffron rice.
Simmer the rice, till the rice becomes mushy and pasty.
Stir occasionally and add water as necessary.
Simmer till the rice becomes sticky and paste like.
Add 1/2 of chopped Arabic Fresh Cheese of your choice while stirring.
Note: Be sure to select a fresh cheese that has a high enough fat content that the cheese will melt. Some Arabic fresh cheese has a very low fat content. If no Arabic Fresh Cheese is available in your area, then Mexican Queso Fresco or farmer's cheese is a good substitute.
When the rice and cheese mixture becomes starchy enough to gather like a ball in the pan, then it is ready to stuff the grape leaves. There should be no excess water in the mixture at this point.
Remove the pan from the heat.
Allow the fresh cheese and saffron rice stuffing to cool to room temperature.
Dolmeh Barg of Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice:
Carefully trim the thick grape leaf vein and stem off of 6 or 7 Persian Pickled Grape Leaves.
Place a small dab of the rice stuffing on the stem end of the leaf.
Roll the leaf one turn.
Fold the leaf's sides over the stuffing.
Roll the leaf so it becomes a small sealed cylinder shape, like a cigar.
Place the stuffed grape leaf on a baking pan.
Repeat theses steps to make several stuffed grape leaves. (Roll the stuffed leaves, so they are uniform in size. You may have to trim the larger grape leaves.)
Be sure to place the stuffed grape leaves on the baking pan, so they are placed snuggly against each other in a row.
Drizzle virgin olive oil over the stuffed grape leaves.
Squeeze about 11 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice over the stuffed grape leaves.
Cover the baking pan with foil or a lid.
Bake in a 350º oven for about 4 to 7 minutes, till the stuffed grape leaves become hot.
Keep the stuffed grape leaves warm on a stove top.
Za'atar Khubz Arabi:
Brush an 8" to 10" wide pita bread generously with virgin olive oil.
Place the pita bread on a baking pan.
Sprinkle a generous amount of Za'atar toasted sesame spice mix on the pita bread.
Gently rub the za'atar on the oiled pita bread.
Bake the pita bread in a 350º oven, till the sesame seed and spices become aromatic and the bread becomes warm. (This only takes a couple of minutes to bake. Do not cook the pita till it becomes crisp or the spice topping will burn!)
Place the za'atar pita on a cutting board.
Cut the pita bread into 4 pie slice shaped pieces.
Keep the za'atar khubz arabi warm on a stove top.
Dolmeh Barg of Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice with Za'atar Khubz Arabi and Persian Pickles:
Place the Dolmeh Barg of Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice on a plate.
Place the za'atar khubz arabi slices on the plate.
Place some parsley sprigs on the plate.
Place a couple of Persian pickled wild cucumbers on the plate.
Place a pickled mild pepper on the plate.
Place rolled roasted red pepper strips on the plate.
Place a few olives on the plate.
Sprinkle some fresh pomegranate fruit on the plate as a garnish for the stuffed grape leaves.
This is a very satisfying plate of food for a casual afternoon meal or snack! Yum! ... Shawna