Assyrian Dolma (stuffed vine leaves)

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that since the beginning of the year I have been following the Slimming World plan in a bid to shift a few pounds before my 35th birthday in June. I have been absolutely amazed at how much you can eat and still lose weight!  It really isn’t a diet; I’m certainly not missing out on anything, in fact I’m eating more than I was before and getting better results!
At group on Tuesday we had a taster session where members brought in all kinds of delicious food to try and inspire the other members to try new things. The Assyrian in me has been delighted at how easily adaptable a lot of my native dishes are to the Slimming World plan, so I thought I’d rustle up some Dolma (stuffed vine leaves), with Iynee and Gneve (literally translated as eyes and eyelashes! – I know, I don’t get it either.  Basically a spicy tomato salsa and greek yoghurt).

They were a hit, with every last one being devoured.  They are fiddly to make, but well worth the time investment. Here’s the recipe, passed down from my Granny, to my mum, to me. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

2 packets of preserved vine leaves

1lb minced beef or lamb (less than 5% fat).  Alternatively you can make these vegetarian by leaving out the meat and adding in an extra half cup of rice.

1 mug basmati rice

1 large onion

5 spring onions

5 tomatoes

celery leaves

1 green pepper

large bunch of fresh dill

large bunch of fresh parsley

2 cloves crushed garlic

juice of half a lemon

salt & black pepper

1 dsp garam masala

1 tsp cayenne pepper

3 tbsp tomato puree

Method:

Soak the preserved vine leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Chop the onion, spring onions, tomatoes, celery leaves, green pepper and herbs as finely as possible.  Fry the onion and garlic before adding the meat, if using, spices, tomato puree and chopped tomatoes to the pan. and cook through.  Allow the mixture to cool before adding in the rest of the ingredients.

While the mixture is cooling sort through the vines leaves, lining the bottom of a heavy casserole pan with any torn ones (this will prevent the dolma from sticking).

When the stuffing is cool, place a dessert spoon of it on the base of a vine leaf, fold the sides in and roll up tightly. Stack the dolmas in the casserole pan as you go. Place a ceramic saucer on top of the dolma once you’ve rolled and staked them all in the pan to prevent them moving around when cooking.

Cooking: 

Mix together 1.5 cups of boiling water with 1 chicken stock cube, 1 tbsp tomato puree and the juice of half a lemon. Pour over the dolma and boil them for 15 minutes on a medium heat, before turning down to low and cooking slowly for around 45 minutes.  Take care not to overcook – soggy rice is grim.

Serving:

Serve with Greek yogurt and make a salsa by frying off 1 onion, 1 crushed clove of garlic, and then adding in 1 tbsp tomato puree, 1 tin chopped tomatoes, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, salt and block pepper.

Delicious!

Frugal February week 4

Where has this month gone? I can’t believe it has flown by so fast and we’re in our last week of Frugal February. This week is going to be slightly different, as the hubby and I are going away for a couple of nights by ourselves, the first time since before our daughter was born. In fact it’s going to be the first time in her (almost) four years of life that we’ve ever left her overnight with anyone! Some friends of ours from church very kindly bought us a couple of nights away as a Christmas present. We’re so blessed! We’re all very excited, as are my parents who are driving five and a half hours to babysit for us! Anyhow, I only need to plan two meals this week as a result:

Monday: Throw it all in veggie mac & cheese. Using up veggies left in the fridge, a simple homemade cheese sauce and crispy breadcrumb topping.
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Tuesday: Roasted veg and salmon tray bake. Using half a side of salmon we have in the freezer and veggies already in the fridge.
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Wednesday & Thursday we’re away.

Friday: Kubbah hammute. I made extra and froze them last time I made them, so mum is going to make the soup and poach them for when we arrive home.

You might notice I haven’t put any prices on, the reason being I haven’t actually had to buy anything, so actually in one sense this is an extra frugal week, although no doubt hubby and I will enjoy a couple of meals out while we’re away.

What will you be eating this week?

Frugal February. Week 2.

Welcome to the second week of frugal yet satisfying, (mostly) home made meals. If you missed last week, you can have a look here. Otherwise, here is our menu this week (please note all costings are approximate, and I haven’t accounted for things we’ve already got in the cupboards):

Monday: slow cooker vegetable curry, rice & naan using vegetables we still have in the fridge. £2.60. I loosely followed this recipe although I left out the Coconut milk as I didn’t think it needed it, cut back on the curry powder for Phoebe’s sake, and added in yellow pepper, courgette, frozen spinach and half a carton of passata instead of fresh tomatoes, oh and of course a couple of dashes of lemon juice. Oooh, and I used white kidney beans because I’d run out of chickpeas. It was lovely.
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Tuesday: Assyrian macaroni using quorn mince. £2.80
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Wednesday: Vegetable bake. £3.50
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Phoebe was especially excited about tonight's dinner and polished it off in about five minutes!


Thursday: Sweet & sour prawns, stir fried veg and rice. £4.00
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Friday: Cheat (aka shop bought) pizza for the hubby & little one as I’m out at a local charity fundraiser. £3.50
Saturday: Valentine’s Day… I’m hoping my DH will give me the evening off!
Sunday: Good old Sunday roast with all the trimmings. I’ll see what offers there are on meat at the supermarket tomorrow.

What’s on your menu this week?

Kubbah Hammute

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A lot of my childhood memories involve food. My mum’s curry, lobster and mackerel caught by Dad, Saturday morning pancakes, cheese fondue as a treat now and then, the good old Sunday roast, I could go on. These little beauts however, categorically remind me of my Granny. I remember being mesmerised watching her tiny hands make these spiced Assyrian dumplings poached in a fragrant spiced soup, while she explained in pigeon English how to do it.

Granny never wrote recipes down though, so it fell to my mum to work out actual quantities. I entered this dish in a cooking competition a couple of years ago, and although I didn’t win, the recipe was printed in a cook book to accompany the TV series. You can see it on one of my earlier blog posts here or you can buy it online here. For whatever reason the recipe was changed slightly by the book writers, but here’s the original, and best… Not that I’m biased! Here’s what you’ll need:

Stuffing
250g lean minced beef
1 large onion very finely diced
Large handful chopped curly parsley
1 rounded dessert spoon of hot curry powder
1 rounded dessert spoon of garam massala
Salt and black pepper

Dough
500g lean minced beef
500g ground rice
Salt and black pepper
1/4 pint water.

For the stuffing, fry the meat in a little oil, add the onion and dry ingredients. Once cooked add the parsley. Set aside to cool.

For the dough mix all the ingredients by hand (or the kitchen aid with the dough hook attachment works well too) adding the water a little at a time until it feels like soft bead dough. If it’s too wet add a little more ground rice otherwise the Kubbah will disintegrate while cooking. Leave to stand for half an hour.

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You’re now ready to roll. Take a golf ball amount of dough and roll into a ball.

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Use your thumb to make a hole and pinch gently round to form a small bowl shape.

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Stuff the hole with as much of the stuffing as you can squeeze in without it splitting.

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Pinch the edges together and gently toll back into a ball shape. If the dough starts to split dip your finger in a little water and smooth over the surface. Now slap the Kubbah between your hands to form into a disk shape.

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These freeze brilliantly, so once you’ve rolled them all you could put them in the freezer for a later date, or you can go ahead and make the soup to poach them in straight away.

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Soup
1 finely chopped onion
1 dessert spoon of paprika
1 chicken stock cube
1 swede cubed
1 tin tomatoes
2 dessert spoons of tomato puree
Juice of 2 lemons
Handful fresh mint leaves
Salt
Pepper
3 pints of boiling water.

In a large pan fry the onion until softened then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil and add the Kubbah a few at a time.  The soup needs to stay at a rolling boil to stop the Kubbah disintegrating. 

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The Kubbah will float to the top when they are cooked.

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Check the swede is tender (usually about 20 minutes). Serve in soup bowls and enjoy.

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Assyrian Baklava

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Baklava is widely associated with Greece, but believe it or not, us Assyrians were the first people to layer nuts with flat bread and honey back in the 8th century B.C. Greek sea merchants discovered this decadent treat as they were traveling to Mesopotamia, and took the recipe back to Athens.

There are as many regional recipes for this delight as there are ways to pronounce it, but this is my family’s version. Passed from my Granny to my mum, who has adapted it and actually worked out the measurements rather than adding a dash or this and pinch or that, this recipe is very close to my heart. So much so in fact that I’m almost reluctant to share it! It’s a taste of home, a taste of my childhood and a taste of my heritage.  Make it with passion and eat it with love.

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Four generations of the Assyrian side of the family. Granny, mum, me and my daughter a few years ago.

You’ll need:
1 packet of filo pastry (6 large sheets)
4oz butter
8oz crushed pistachio nuts (walnuts or almonds work well too)
4oz brown sugar
1 level tsp green cardamom seeds crushed

For the sauce:
2oz dark sugar
2oz honey
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons rose water
1 level tsp crushed green cardamom seeds

Melt the butter. Brush an oblong cake tin with butter before laying one of the filo sheets on top folding any excess back on itself. Brush this with butter and add a second and third brushing each with the butter.

Mix the pistachio nuts, 4oz brown sugar and a teaspoon of crushed cardamom together and sprinkle over the filo sheets. Layer up the remaining filo sheets on top of the nut mixture brushing each with butter as you go, except the top one (brushing it with butter will make it brown too fast when baking).

Cut the baklava into diamonds before baking at 160oC for about 30 minutes.

Whilst it’s baking, make the sauce by heating all the other ingredients in a saucepan until it boils, stiring continuously. Allow it to cool before pouring over the baklava. Enjoy with a cup of coffee.

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The Babilla culinary archives

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Before Christmas we enjoyed a few days visiting family on the south coast, and whilst there my Granny presented me with a ziplock bag full of old recipes. Some handwritten, some printed, some cut out of magazines. I’m quite a sentimental person, but even I was surprised at just how endearing these yellowing pieces of culinary history are to me.

Moving from Baghdad to the Shetland Isles in the 1950`s, my Assyrian granny was a whizz in the kitchen, and her fingers were always busy rolling rice into vine leaves, stuffing kubbah or putting little morsels of deliciousness in my mouth as she was cooking. Over the years of moving around (Cornwall after Shetland, Cyprus, Turlock in California, and finally back to the UK as they grew older) she inevitably picked up various regional recipes and I still maintain that she makes the best Cornish pasties I have tasted!

What charmed me most about these precious scraps of paper with the almost illegible handwriting, is the fact that half of them don’t even say what the recipe is at the top. They’re just lists of random ingredients… I’m going to love trying them just to figure out what they’re actually meant to be! Here are a few snaps to whet your appetites.

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I have no idea how old some of these are.

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I love how this says 'introducing' oregano! Introducing! Seriously?

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Yum! A jello salad!

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Post it note recipes!

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I even found a couple my mum had sent Granny in 1996

My recipe, in an actual book!

Food Glorious Food

Food Glorious Food

Book KubbahToday I had the great surprise of receiving a parcel that I wasn’t expecting. My anticipation was heightened for the mere fact that it wasn’t even delivered to my door, but to our old place, and I had to drive across town to collect it. The hubster was excited because he thought it was a birthday present from my sister in Japan which appears to have got lost en route, but he was wrong. It was for me. I ripped it open and to my sheer delight it was a recipe book. Not just any old recipe book, but a recipe book with one of my recipe’s printed in it! I am rather excited about this! Book full page I have had lots of articles published in the past, mainly in NHS mental health magazines which was my job before I became a mummy, but this is different. I am passionate about food and also about my Assyrian heritage, and to have the opportunity to share this is thrilling! The book, ‘Food Glorious Food’, accompanies the TV series which is starting at the end of Feb on ITV – be sure to tune in.