Holy crap, it’s June! Every Summer, I start to get nostalgic for Christmas. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the 6 month mark. Maybe it’s missing family. Whatever the trigger, June for me comes with Christmas food cravings and the start of Christmas carols sneaking into my humming patterns.
To satiate my Christmas food cravings today, I pulled out Yaprakia from the freezer. It was lovingly made with my family during the Christmas break. And we even got a special lesson from my Uncle on how to make the eggs perfectly frothy for the final touch. I’m still unconvinced that Yaprakia is not a dish my family made up. Supposedly, it’s a typical Greek dish (my grandfather is 100% Greek) and my cousin did find a recipe for it (named Yaprakia) in a very random Greek cookbook. So maybe it’s real. Whether or not it’s made up, it’s a Christmas tradition for this FDF.
Most people think anything Greek that’s wrapped in grape leaves is a dolma. Though this has many of the same ingredients, it’s served hot with lemon, buttermilk and feta. And it’s deliciously rich and tangy and hearty and satisfying for a girl missing sitting around the table with family rolling Yaprakia and complaining about stinging hands (if you’ve ever rolled with grape leaves, you know what I’m talking about).
Here’s a loose recipe (again, possibly made up but delicious):
Disclaimer: this is a leisure day in the kitchen starting with making broth and ending with a delicious meal but it takes a very long time. We usually start around 6 and eat around 2. Most of the time, it’s just a pot on the stove simmering.
5 lbs of ground round beef
1/2 lb of ground lamb
3 med yellow onions, small dices
1 bunch of parsely
1 box of Uncle Ben’s instant rice (the only time of year I don’t use organic non-instant rice)
5 jars of grape leaves
5 lbs of beef bones
1 quart of water
Preparing the stock: Get a large soup pot and simmer beef bones with water for 3 hours. Skim froth occasionally. This can be made ahead but needs to be warm when added to the rolls.
Preparing the stuffing: Separately, loosely mix the first four ingredients together. Then shake on the rice so that it looks like a 1/3 rice to 2/3 meat combination. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Remember that the grape leaves are salty.
Getting the grape leaves ready: Unpack the grape leaves, discarding the liquor. Begin pinching off the stems and laying them flat on a plate with the veins face up. You only want whole leaves. Any with holes in them can be laid in the bottom of another soup pot. This helps to protect the Yaprakia from getting scorched (I think it’s more of a tradition than actually purposeful).
Rolling: Get a plate for each of your “rollers” – people helping roll Yaprakia. Place one grape leaf, veins up and oriented so that the top of the leaf is at the top of the plate and bottom at the bottom. Now grab about 1 to 2 TBS of mixture, depending on the size of your leaf and lower 2/3 of the leaf nearly touching the stem end. Fold in each of the sides of the leaf and then roll from the bottom up. There should be no stuffing showing.
Cooking: You’ll be putting your rolled Yaprakia into the large soup pot you started with the holey grape leaves on the bottom of the pot. Your first rolls will be placed end to end against the side of the pot and then work your way inward (kinda like a snail shell). They should be pretty tight. When you put your last roll in, start a new row the same way. Keep stacking until you get about 4″ from the top of the pot. Now slowly ladle in the beef broth you’ve been making until it just covers the rolls. Put the lid on the pot (cracked) and simmer very slowly (you don’t want to break up your rolls) for ~1-2 hr. You want the grape leaves to get soft and the rice to be cooked. Keep checking the level of the broth and add more if needed.
Finishing it up: 10 mins before serving, whip the eggs with lemon juice into a frothy yellow cloud of heaven. We do this by hand but I assume it could be done with a machine (my Uncle says no, only by hand). You achieve the yellow cloud of heaven by very slowly adding the lemon juice bits at a time while you’re feverishly whipping the eggs. This is best done with two or more people so that your wrist can have a break.
Turn off the Yaprakia and add the egg mixture over the top. Cover and let it cook with residual heat for 10 mins.
Eating it up:Spoon out rolls and dress with feta, buttermilk and a squeeze of lemon.