This recipe, like all good family recipes, was taught to me when I was young. No measurements, you just knew when it was right by the way the spices sat in your hand when poured from the bottle and the smell. If the smell takes me back to a kitchen table sitting with my mom, sisters and grandparents rolling leaves, it’s right. Since I can’t take you back there with me, I have added measurements. Please feel free to adjust accordingly and make this your own.
Unlike Greek dolmades, the version of stuffed grape leaves most of you have been exposed to, these have no mint and have meat. When I make it, I use beef as in the below recipe, but we’ve also made it with a blend of beef and lamb or pork and beef (only when we were making cabbage rolls too) depending on meat prices and how much we were making. A one pound bottle of grape leaves feeds the Godfather and I for several days with extra to share. If you’re making for a crowd and this is the featured dish in the meal, I would double the recipe.
Stuffed Grape Leaves – A Family Recipe from the Godmother
- 1lb bottle of grape leaves
- 3-4 tomatoes, chopped small
- 2.5-3 lbs beef, diced into small pieces (a leaner cut like top sirloin, trimmed and diced)*
- 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 4 tsp salt, divided
- 1.5 tsp black pepper
- 4 cups rice
- 2.5 tbsp curry powder
- 3/4 stick butter, melted
- 1/4 stick butter, cubed
- 5 cups chicken stock
- Rinse jarred grape leaves and trim stems off the leaves using kitchen scissors. Keep under a damp paper towel so they don’t dry out.
- Mix all remaining ingredients except 1/4 stick of butter and chicken stock in a large bowl.
- Line the bottom of a large stock pot with a single layer of grape leaves. I try to pick out any that are broken or too misshapen to roll.
- Roll the remaining grape leaves, arranging them in neat layers in the pot. Sprinkle the rolled leaves with the remaining 1/4 stick of butter. Top with a plate slightly smaller than the opening of your pot to add weight so the leaves don’t unravel during cooking.
- Add the chicken stock to the pot and then fill with water until the leaves are completely submerged.
- Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer, cooking for about 45 minutes.
- Carefully drain any remaining liquid and allow to sit at least 10 minutes before removing the first few layers of leaves.
- Serve with sour cream or plain Greek yogurt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Can you believe this is the last post I’m writing for you from our home in the Santa Ynez Valley? Next stop, Vandenberg AFB down the road. I almost didn’t have a recipe post for you because we’re trying to prepare everything before the movers show up bright and early Monday morning, but I was planning on making this pasta anyway to use up some extra egg yolks and spinach and so why not share? I’m pretty sure there are only one or two of you that actually read this blog though… and the spammers who like to post spammy links. Too bad I moderate the comments so only real ones get through. Godmother – 1 Spammers – 0
Anyway, I’d just like to note that I never ever pictured myself as the type of person who would make fresh pasta and DEFINITELY not the type of person who would make it regularly enough to have the general recipe memorized and feel confident enough to just make up variations. So if you’re reading this post thinking “this is not me”, think again. It’s actually much simpler than you’d think and it always makes me imagine I’m someone’s nonna making food for the family in a rustic kitchen in the Italian countryside. It all feels very romantic. Making fresh pasta also sounds extremely impressive and lets you do things like convince your significant other to put together the sauce and help with dishes. I’m just putting that out there.
The Godfather making chicken and pasta sauce
We topped the pasta with some chicken and mushrooms cooked in a jar of the same sauce I used in last week’s Turkey Spinach Lasagna. Recipe will come for this soon, but I just thought I’d mention that this recipe is as another great use for homemade tomato sauce.
Fresh Spinach Whole Wheat Pasta
- 10 oz white wheat flour + more for dusting
- 7 egg yolks
- 4 cups fresh spinach, washed
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp salt
- olive oil
- Place the spinach and garlic in a food processor and pulse until very fine. Scrape the sides of the food processor as needed while mixing. You might need to add 1-1.5 tablespoons of olive oil to help break down the spinach. Set aside.
- Measure out your flour and make a well in the center for your egg yolks. Sprinkle the salt on top.
- Using your fingertips, begin to swirl the egg yolks, slowly incorporating the flour. Be careful not to let the egg yolks spill out of their well. As you swirl and the mixture starts to thicken, add the spinach to incorporate.Spinach Whole Wheat Pasta
- Once the pasta has incorporated too much flour to swirl, knead the dough by forming it into a ball, flattening it, reforming the ball and flattening again. Do this for about 10 minutes until you can pull to create a hole in the dough and it tries to come back together.
- Lightly coat the dough with olive oil and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest for 1 hour.
- Roll out the dough using a pasta roller (which I don't have and I really really want) or by using a rolling pin. The Godmother is forced to use the rolling pin method for now. Cut your dough ball in half, then in half again, and roll one of the sections until it's the proper pasta thinness. Liberally flour the cutting board and your rolling pin to prevent sticking. I also roll the pasta dough in one direction only, like rolling pie dough. Cut either by rolling the pasta into a tube and slicing or just using a pizza cutter.Spinach Whole Wheat Pasta
- You may either freeze your fresh pasta here or use immediately by filling a large stockpot with water (I never measure, sorry!), bringing to a boil, adding salt and cooking for 7-10 minutes or until you've reached desired "done-ness". This will vary with the thickness of your pasta.
- Top or toss with your favorite sauce and enjoy!
This post is also included in the January 2015 Healthy Pasta Dish Roundup hosted by Ren Behan and Tinned Tomatoes!
As many of you know, the Godfather and I are moving (again). We’re still going to be in Santa Barbara County, but we’re moving a smidge further north to cut the Godfather’s commute a bit. We’re T-9 days to the move and this past week I decided we probably should start using some of the perishable foods we have stored in the freezer so there’s less to move.
Freezing food is totally new to me. In trying to avoid using processed foods, we normally kept a nearly empty freezer with the exception of ice, some meat, and maybe a baggie of frozen chopped vegetables for making fried rice. Now, I store
fresh veggies that I’ve chopped, fresh soup, my bag of stuff for making stock… who knew the freezer could make eating whole foods easier!? It’s sorcery I tell you.
Back in January, I made up a huge batch of fresh tomato sauce. We enjoyed it with some homemade pasta and then I froze the rest in “pasta or something small” sized containers and “lasagna” sized containers and I’ve basically had lasagna on the brain since then, but no motivation to make it until this week when inspiration and motivation worked in beautiful harmony (and I remembered to actually buy lasagna noodles… minor detail).
Not really feeling the idea of using ground beef and wanting to incorporate more vegetables, I decided to try using ground turkey and spinach instead to add a bit more iron and cut down on the fat content because I will not use fat free “cheese”. Ick.
Turkey Spinach Lasagna
- 1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles
- 2 lbs ground turkey
- 6-8 cups fresh spinach
- 1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
- 3 cups shredded mozzarella
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 cups tomato sauce, homemade or store bought, divided
- salt, pepper, oregano to taste
- Preheat your oven to 350.
- Heat one tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan, add half the garlic and the onion, cooking for about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted. Remove and set aside.
- Add the other tbsp of olive oil to the pan, add the other half of the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds then add the ground turkey and cook through, adding sauce (reserving a cup) about halfway through the cooking process. Add seasoning (be liberal!). Remove from heat.
- Take a 9″x13″ pan, spray with nonstick spray or mist with olive oil and put about a cup of the sauce on the bottom of the pan. Add a single layer of lasagna noodles on top, then a third of the spinach mixture, a cup of cheese, some strategically placed dollops of ricotta, and one third of your turkey sauce mixture. Repeat two more times. With the third and final layer, I change the order slightly so the cheese is on top. Who doesn’t love cheesy lasagna?
- Cover the pan with foil and bake 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes or so until the cheese on top browns a bit.
- Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
You’ll notice a difference in lighting because I assembled the lasagna in the morning and left it in the fridge for the Godfather to bake that night so dinner was ready when I got home. Yum!
Ropa vieja is one of the Godfather’s favorite “comfort foods”. When his mother or grandmother would make extra on a day he was home, he would occasionally bring it back to the dorms celebrating that we had a few meals where we weren’t relying on good old Chartwell’s (the cafeteria management company), dining out, or whatever we could concoct in a microwave. We would eat it with leftover rice (if he brought that too), with salad, or on bread as a sandwich. It’s really quite a versatile main dish and the leftovers just get better as the flavors have time to blend.
Growing up in South Florida, we assumed the blend of cuisines familiar to us were also familiar and easily found in the rest of the country. We were wrong (sheltered!). When we moved out of the area, we realized we (meaning me) would have to make some foods we used to enjoy with family or at a local restaurant. Cuban food was something I wasn’t really exposed to very much until college, so I had a lot to learn to replicate childhood recipes for my sweetheart. Thankfully, my mother-in-law tried to provide me with instructions and let me watch her in the kitchen. She makes her ropa vieja on the stove top or in the pressure cooker. I wanted to be able to make this on weekdays though and I haven’t figured out my pressure cooker 100% – we’re acquaintances rather than friends – so I decided to improvise and use my crock pot… successfully!
This is now the only way I’ve made ropa vieja for years because it’s SO EASY. I prep everything the evening before or in the morning, turn the crock pot on low and come back to a house that smells FANTASTIC and dinner is pretty much ready to go.
Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja (Cuban Shredded Beef)
- 2 1/2 – 3 lb flank steak
- 1 bottle sofrito (we find the Goya brand at the commissary)
- 1 bell peppers, seeded and diced
- 1 onion, diced (I had less on hand so added a second bell pepper instead)
- 6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- salt to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic, wait about 30 seconds, then add the onion and pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes until onion is slightly translucent and the pepper is softened.
- Slide the contents of the saute pan into your slow cooker and set the meat on top.
- Open the jar of sofrito, pour over the meat, ensuring it’s well coated and then cover and store in the refrigerator overnight before cooking or cook immediately.
- To cook, set your crockpot on high 3-4 hours or low 7-8 until the meat is cooked through and shreds easily with a fork. Serve with rice and salad, salad only, or put on baguette bread for sandwiches. Serves 6 – our family of two gets about 3 meals from a 2 1/2 lb flank steak.
Ropa Vieja served with rice and salad
The photos in this recipe were updated 6/18/2015 as part of the #ThrowbackThursday photography project. Pictures were shot in natural light using a Canon 40D with either a 50mm/1.8 lens or a 100mm macro. Original photo was taken on a phone… scroll down to the bottom of the post see the totally embarrassing original photo.
I just realized that I have only shared one sweet recipe on this blog! It’s only been in existence a short time, but the oversight seems almost inexcusable given how much I joke that I’m up to my elbows in sugar all the time. No matter though… we can fix this! And we can justify that this is really not even bad for you (because it isn’t) and it makes the house smell heavenly, like waking up in a chocolate shop.