Monday 31 March 2014

grape leaves



I love you cabbage, but Spring is (supposed to be) coming -- if you live in Canada, you know what I am talking about. I’m Eastern European and for me any quintessential Winter dish will likely involve sauerkraut or pork, or both, like the beloved cabbage rolls. But enough of that, I want green! I want something that reminds me that warmer days are around the corner damn it!

Cue grape leaves. What could be more evocative of sunny, warm climes right? I know that most likely you've already tried the Middle Eastern or Greek version but I assure you, you have not had it like this. These are served hot, contain pork (we might give up sauerkraut temporarily but no way we are forgoing pork), and are so beautifully succulent.

Now, if you've never eaten grape leaves, you are missing out. They have a wonderful slightly sour flavour, good texture, and absorb the flavour of whatever it is you are cooking them with without losing their distinct qualities. You can buy them in many speciality stores ready preserved in great big jars, so why not try them?


Serving – makes about 25 rolls

preserved grape leaves, 40 (enough to line/cover pan and in case some rip while rolling)
500 g minced pork (go lean if you must, just remember this: the more fat, the more succulent the result, just sayin’)
1 Tbs. oil
½ large onion finely chopped
pinch of salt
2 Tbs. rice
2 ½ Tbs. tomato paste
boiling water (enough to cover)
1 small egg
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (you can use dry)
1 tsp. sweet paprika
salt and pepper
2 cups water
thyme/bay leaves (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 325 F

2. First, you need to unfurl the rolled up jarred grape leaves and soak them in a large bowl of water while you prepare the meat filling. Remember to drain just before rolling.

3. In a skillet, sweat the onions in the oil until translucent, stir in the rice and continue to cook for another minute. Stir in 1 Tbs. of the tomato paste then add enough boiled water to barely cover the rice and onions. Let simmer for a few minutes until the rice is ¾ of the way cooked and the water is absorbed. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. Place the minced pork in a large bowl, add 1 small egg, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper. Give it a stir then add the onion and rice mixture. Mix well with your hands until everything is fully and evenly incorporated.

5. Before you begin rolling the grape leaves, make sure you cut the stem off from each leaf as it is hard and not very pliable.

6. To roll, flatten out the leaf on a clean board, veiny underside up. Take about a tablespoon’s worth of the mince mixture in your hand a shape it into a short elongated sausage. Place it centre on the bottom part of the leaf. Fold the sides over and roll up away from you, tuck in at the sides again, then continue rolling all the way to the top, delicately.

7. Cover the bottom of a pan (you can use a cast iron pan, a clay pan, or any oven-safe pan so long as it’s at least 2 inches deep) with grape leaves. This will protect your delicate parcels from burning and simply makes them that much more succulent. Arrange each parcel on the pan. Depending on the size or depth of your pan, you can layer them on top of each other or you can simply make one layer like I did. Now you’ll need to add some moisture to your pan by dissolving 1 ½ Tbs. of tomato paste in about 2 cups of water, stirring it with a spoon. Pour the liquid over the nicely arranged rolls until at least half way up. For extra aromatic appeal, you can place a few sprigs of thyme and/or bay leaves on top of your rolls. Lastly, cover the pan with a layer of grape leaves to ensure your little parcels are nice and protected while they cook.

8. Place the pan in the oven and let cook gently for about 2 hours.

You can eat them on their own with some fresh bread and sour cream or do as I did and serve them on a bed of polenta, topped off with a dollop of prepared sour cream – sour cream, a squeeze of lemon, and salt.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

parsley root




We are all familiar with parsley, but less so with parsley root. Though used widely in Central and Eastern Europe, it is far less common in North America. Thankfully, I have little trouble finding it in Toronto, phew. 

I took for granted that this type of root vegetable is grown primarily for its root and not its leaves like conventional parsley is. I can recall a time when I was living in Auckland and I was really missing using parsley root in my cooking so my dear and well-meaning father in-law dug up his own garden parsley, roots and all, and brought over a bag-full of tangled spindly roots for me to cook up. I took one look at them and thought How the hell am I going to cook with these?  But given my obstinate temperament and sheer determination to make something out of nothing, I began to somehow peel them. Unsurprisingly, it was nearly impossible. I came out thinking that they just don’t have proper parsley over there. I was wrong, they just don’t have this variety of parsley root. 

At first glance, parsley root (or the Hamburg root parsley) looks like parsnip but it tastes quite different from it. It has a nuttier sweeter flavour and can be used in a variety of ways. I use it in stocks quite often, but you can also make parsley root chips, grate it raw into a salad, or purée it like I did in this post. I find the delicate taste and creamy texture of parsley root goes very well with white fish so in this post I am pairing parsley root with wild yellow perch fillets. This makes for a delicate and elegant flavour combination you will surely love.


Makes 4 portions

2 large parsley roots or 4 small ones, peeled and cubed
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
Milk, enough to cover 
8 perch fillets
1 ½ Tbs butter
1 ½ Tbs sunflower oil
1 Tbs olive oil
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin long strips
1 zucchini, sliced into ribbons with vegetable peeler
Salt and pepper


  1. Place the cubed parsley root and potatoes into a medium pot and cover with enough milk to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Let simmer until liquid is reduced and parsley root and potatoes are soft and tender. Season with salt, then purée in a blender until smooth and silky.
  2. In a pan, heat up olive oil on medium, add the capsicum and sauté for 30 seconds then add the zucchini ribbons and continue to sauté for another minute. Season with salt and pepper, then take off the heat.
  3. Run the perch fillets under cold water then pat dry with paper towel. Season skin with salt and pepper so that the skin will be nice and crispy. In a large pan, heat up the sunflower oil on medium high then add the butter. As soon as it begins to bubble, place your perch fillets skin side down into the pan. The instant you've placed your fillets on the pan, weigh them down with another smaller pan so they don’t curl up. I used my cast iron trivet. Fry for 1 minute, check that skin is crispy. Turn and cook for another 45 seconds. If your fillets are bigger cook longer on each side.
  4. Make a round flat pillow with your parsley root pure, set the sautéed vegetables on top of purée, then top with the beautiful and delicate perch fillets. Make sure you pour that lovely buttery sauce over your fillets, yum.