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!

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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