Maria is playing her kitchen like it’s an instrument.
She doesn’t cook – she plays.
This melody of hers is sweeping and powerful,
Her hands tell a story,
A story of the love of the land,
A story of history and tradition,
A story of a woman who is all one big journey.
I will never forget my first meeting with Maria.
I entered her kitchen and met thousands of pots,
Each contained a full world,
Each one smelled different and the colors mesmerized me,
And in this intoxicating whirlwind I had to choose,
what would we like to eat
What would we like to taste?
And the main thing that came to my mind is – how will I leave this fascinating kitchen.
We fell in love with one look,
Myself and maria
Two women who come from different worlds,
At completely different ages.
Two powerful women who speak with their eyes.
We have no common language except hearts that have connected
And endless love for the kitchen and food.
And as I always say – if there’s a place where everything is possible, it’s in the kitchen.
The kitchen accepts everyone and allows everyone to just be.
I have known Maria for about 6 years.
The first times we met were fascinating and inspiring,
Then longing spoke from our throats,
Mainly the desire to see that the other is well, and wearing her infinite smile.
On the last visit I made to see her, I realized that in a few years, this kitchen of Maria’s will have a different face.
And I decided that I owed it to myself and to her,
I just have to immortalize the divine bite of her grape leaves.
These grape leaves are very different from all the types of grape leaves you’ve known until now.
They’re sour and full of intense flavor,
They’re soft and embracing,
They comfort and caress,
And I promise you they’re the best bite you’ll ever meet.
I set up a meeting with her at 10:30. She had just returned from the farm after collecting the ingredients for today’s cooking.
They grow everything themselves, from the vegetables to producing olive oil and rose honey.
We drank coffee, Grandma Maria’s Greek coffee,
It always breaks her heart when I can’t taste her wonderful cookies, because they contain gluten, so she immediately serves me a spoonful of wonderful fruit jam that she made alongside my coffee.
We talked with our eyes,
Then she motioned me into the kitchen,
The butterflies in my stomach started flying in every direction,
I went into the kitchen and promised myself that I had to be focused as well as captivated by a spell at the same time.
The vegetables began to dance and move from the grater to the bowl,
Lots of olive oil poured with great love,
All the herbs turned into one paste next to the rice
And the big moment has arrived – assembling the pot,
Filling the grape leaves that had been picked this morning from the vineyard, most of them were young, and Maria insisted that they should not be washed,
All the flavor lies in them just as they came from the vine.
I knew she wasn’t going to roll them,
Every time I ate them I noticed that she had a method of folding and not rolling.
Already from a top view of the pot you can see the grape leaves lying folded side by side and on top of each other with
And so it was,
Her soft hands began to fold the grape leaves and fill them with the intriguing rice mixture we had prepared.
It all happened very quickly.
The melody played in my head,
Like a gentle and peaceful ballet dance, each grape leaf is stuffed, folded and placed in the pot.
The pot slowly filled until there was no room left.
We have reached the last step of the recipe,
Adding the liquids and putting the pot on a small, sweet fire.
We put the pot on the stove and hugged each other with our eyes,
From the moment Covid has arrived I realized that in order to be by her side I had to take care of her.
We stood with great excitement in the kitchen and waited for the moment when the pot would be ready.
Next to the pot of grape leaves, which is called “Yamista” in Greek, a pot of wonderful grape jam was bubbling.
I devoured the recipe for this jam from Maria as soon as I saw it for the first time (click here to view the recipe).
It’s jam that’s all golden pearls full of sweet juice of happiness and summer,
And if you long for summer at the height of winter, you just need at least a jar of grape jam and feel the sun caressing you.
The grape leaves were ready and their smell covered every corner of the kitchen,
I remember the look on Noi’s face sitting at the entrance to the kitchen, his blue eyes were shining with excitement and he
was expecting to see my reaction.
Maria opened the pot,
Removed the plate that was used as a weight while cooking and the beauty was revealed to my eyes.
They laid there side by side,
Full of themselves,
Maria’s grape leaves.
Intertwined among them were stuffed zucchini flowers whose sweet taste never left my head.
She called me
And explained with the help of her fingers that this is the amount of liquid that should remain in the pot.
I immediately understood what she meant and my heart began to beat with excitement because in just a moment we’ll eat
this magical pot.
Maria went to the big cabinet at the end of the restaurant and took out a festive white plate in our honor.
She carefully picked the grape leaves out of the pot.
She chose the most beautiful and juicy ones especially for us.
Then she went to the big yogurt jar in the fridge, put a heaping spoonful of it on a plate, Drizzled some olive oil and led me to the kitchen table.
There we stood,
Myself, Noi and Maria,
We talked with our eyes,
Our cultures have become one.
Our hearts beat together and we approached the plate.
I felt like little angels were dancing in my head with every bite.
Maria smiled with her eyes and I knew that if she could she would have hugged me tight.
I promised her that I would pass on this journey and its feelings,
That I’ll let everyone know how to make this pot,
Which was created entirely from love and a vast history.
Anyone who wants to will have this experience as well.
Will dance our dance.
And cherish these powerful moments.
So these are Maria’s grape leaves,
Or by their Cretan Greek name “Yamista”.
I made them with the same movements,
With the same great love and excitement,
And with the deepest and purest intention there is.
Happy and joyful days of love to all of us 🙂
Stuffed Grape Leaves
Ingredients: suitable for a large pot, between 50-60 units
For the rice mixture:
- 1kg round grain rice (I don’t recommend using any other type of rice)
- 2 large tomatoes
- 4 large onions
- 1 large zucchini
- A bundle of mint
- A bundle of dill
- A bundle of basil
- 4-5 sprigs of thyme
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- Juice out of a whole lemon
- 1 packed teaspoon of salt
- 2 small cans of tomato paste (200g in total)
- ½ cup olive oil
- 50 units fresh / preserved grape leaves (note the comments below will specify how to treat them before rolling)
- 20 basil leaves
- Lemon juice out of 2 whole lemons
- 1 can of tomato paste (100g)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 flat teaspoon of salt
- Let’s start by preparing the rice mixture: wash the rice well, filter it and transfer it to a large bowl.
- In a food processor or using a grater on its thin side (I recommend using a food processor) grind the vegetables: the tomatoes, onion and the zucchini into small crumbs, grind a different vegetable each time.
- Put in all the herbs: the mint, dill, basil and thyme into the food processor and grind well. Grind the herbs whole with the stems, except for the thyme – you should remove the stems.
- Transfer the grated vegetables and ground herbs to the rice bowl and add the other ingredients: the oregano, cinnamon, cumin, lemon juice, salt, tomato paste and olive oil and mix well. Leave our mixture to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Let’s build the pot: at the bottom of the pot, spread 10 basil leaves, drizzle a little olive oil and start folding the grape leaves.
- Place one grape leaf on the work surface with its rough side up. Place about 1 tablespoon of the rice mixture on the lower part of the grape leaf, fold the lower part of the leaf over the rice mixture. Fold both sides of the leaf to the center and roll the leaf from the lower part towards the upper part until the end. Note, there’s no need to tighten the leaf too tightly. Arrange the grape leaves in the shape of a circle in the pot and create layers of vine leaves, layer over layer. Repeat this action with all the leaves.
- Fill a bowl with ½ liter of water at room temperature and lemon juice and mix well. Add the tomato paste, olive oil and salt and mix. Pour all the water into the pot, over the vine leaves. The water should be at a height of 2 fingers above the top stuffed grape leaves, if necessary add more water until the desired height is obtained. There is no need to be afraid that there will be too much liquid, the rice will absorb it all. Scatter over the grape leaves another 10 basil leaves.
- Place an upside-down plate over the pot, more or less the size of the pot, and cover it with a lid. Cook the pot on low-medium heat for between 40-60 minutes.
- After 30 minutes check the pot, see if the liquid level starts to drop and that the liquids do not overflow. Shake the pot slightly from side to side.
- How do we know the pot is ready? The water level will drop significantly, the vine leaves will swell and become oily and the smell will drive us all crazy. When the pot is ready, turn off the heat and let the pot rest for at least 30 minutes while still closed.
Serving suggestions: The first suggestion, which I recommend, is to take a stuffed leaf out of the pot and place it on a flat, wide serving plate. The second suggestion is to turn the whole pot over on a large wide tray – put a wide tray on the pot, grab the two handles of the pot with the plate on top and turn the pot over.
- You can serve the stuffed grape leaves next to a thick yogurt. For a Parve option (which is non-dairy), you can serve it with tahini or tofu cheese (click here to view a quick tofu cheese recipe).
- An amazing option to upgrade the pot: you can place several lamb chops pre-seared in a hot pan at the bottom of the pot, above the basil leaves.
A little extra from me:
- The grape leaves can be kept in a sealed box in the fridge for up to 5 days. They taste very good straight out of the fridge.
- You can reduce the amount of olive oil, but it gives flavor and gives incredible moisture to the rice.
- If you’re using fresh grape leaves, soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes before preparing the dish. It’s important to filter the grape leaves well before you start preparing the dish.
- If you use canned grape leaves, filter them and soak them in water at room temperature for about 5 minutes before preparing the dish. It’s important to filter the grape leaves well before you start preparing the dish.
- You can add 1 grated carrot to the rice mixture.
- If you have leftover rice, you can cook it: for each cup of rice, add a cup and a half of hot water and cook in a covered pot over low heat until the rice is ready.
- For a recipe for a quick tofu cheese that fits perfectly with grape leaves, click here 🙂