A little catching up to do here. The semester ended with our work sleeves rolled up. Our last three recipes were all on the menu for our end of the semester party in late January. It was slightly nerve wrecking piling all our party recipes at the end. A lesson to next semester. My students were great sports through it all though, it seems they have learned to handle parties. No more, “this is boring” after completing two rolls! I even heard a few, “this is really fun.”
The grape leaves were great fun to roll. “Leaves?! We’re going to be eating leaves?”
“Sure, you eat lettuce don’t you, that’s a leaf.”
“So this is going to taste like lettuce?”
While most of my older students– third, fourth and fifth graders, really enjoyed these, my younger students weren’t so sure. I think this has to do with a shortened cooking time I decided on to fit this into our 1 hour class schedule. I steamed these for a quick 20 minutes and think an oven-braised approach in a little chicken stock-tomato combo would have been more successful. Ironically, when the K to 2nd graders made their own pomegranate-only grape leaves and ate them uncooked they thought they were right on target. On the other hand, these were a huge success with parents at our end of the semester party. Multiple families followed me to the kitchen to nab some leftovers post-soiree. (Recipes at bottom.)
These were more of a success than I was ready for. Okay, I love arepas from the local Venezualan hole-in-the-wall. I love corn and cornmeal. I know kids love corn, but I wasn’t so sure about a cornmeal-like patty slathered in an addictive (according to me) avocado sauce. These were super easy to make. The best part– the kids loved them and they loved making them. While they were mixing they were begging for a taste- “Just a little longer!” I kept saying, “We’ll warm them up in the oven and they’ll be much better.” Still, I caught some pre-cooked dough getting into the mouths.
Once we finished how many times did I have to repeat what we made? “Wait, how do you say these, rapas?”
Close enough. They all have a cookbook and can review and learn. (Recipes at bottom.)
I had two kids that didn’t like these. One didn’t like chocolate. (What?!) The other thought they were cold and he threw his out because he doesn’t like to eat cold things (”Unless it’s ice cream.” “Oh, of course.”). I combined a few recipes I found online then adapted them into something I was happy with. I cut the sugar content and added preserves for a fruity flavor. If they were in season, I would have added fresh fruit too. I had some dehydrated powdered cherries (it looks like pink powdered sugar and tastes like cherries) that we dusted on top the final for our party.
Needless to say, these were beyond a hit at the end of the semester party. I kept receiving phone calls in the kitchen, “Send more brownies up!” I think my kitchen helpers (my 4th and 5th graders) slipped a few more in their mouths then I was aware of– By the end of the night they were so drunk on sugar they got a little sloppy in their presentation going upstairs to the party.
Pomegranate Grape Leaves
Makes about 40 grape leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
2 cups wild rice, rinsed (or 1/2 cup wild rice plus 1/2 cup brown rice)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 jar grape leaves, rinsed well and lightly dried
Heat oil in a sauce pan on medium high heat. Add onions, sauté 3 minutes. Add garlic, salt, cinnamon, pepper and cardamom, sauté 2 minutes more. Add wild rice, mix to coat evenly. Add chicken stock, cover and cook until rice is almost fully cooked, slightly al dente. Stir in pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds and mint. Season with more salt to taste if necessary. Cool slightly, 10 minutes.
Spread grape leaves flat on a work surface, veins up. Place one tablespoon rice filling in the center, fold up bottom edges then sides, then roll up tight. Continue with remaining grape leaves and filling.
Bring 2-inches of water to a boil and set a steamer basket inside. Layer grape leaves (can be placed on top of each other). Cover and steam 20 minutes. Serve warm or chilled sprinkled with lemon juice.
NOTE: Replace half to all of the pomegranate seeds with pine nuts. Add ground lamb or beef for extra flavor. Serve as an appetizer or with pita, meze dips and carrot salad, above.
Arepas with Avocado Sauce & Black Beans
Makes about 40 1-inch arepas
1 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup masarepa (pre-cooked corn flour, sometimes called Harina precocida or Masa al instante)
1 cup grated queso fresco
1/2 cup sweet corn kernels (if frozen, thawed)
grape seed or peanut oil for cooking
Avocado Sauce (Guasacaca):
1 avocado, rough chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro, rough chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh parsley, rough chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can black beans, washed and drained
Stir milk, butter, honey, salt and allspice in a small saucepot over medium heat until it simmers. Stir in the masarepa and queso fresco. Stir until very thick, about 5 minutes, remove from heat. Stir in corn kernels until evenly incorporated. Set aside to cool and thicken, about 10 minutes.
While cooling, make the avocado sauce. Blitz avocado, mayonnaise, cilantro, lime juice and salt in a blender until smooth.
Scoop up balls of the arepa batter, slightly smaller than a golf ball. Transfer to a tray, flattening into 1/4-inch disk. Continue with remaining batter, setting on a tray as you finish. Heat about 3 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear arepas in batches, careful not to crowd, until golden, 4 minutes, turn, then cook another 4 minutes. To serve: add a dollop of the avocado sauce then top with a few black beans. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: You can alternatively brush the arepas with butter or oil and bake about 15 minutes until golden.
Cherry Brownie Bites
5 ounces dark chocolate, broken into 1/2-ounce pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for coating pan
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup seedless cherry preserves
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour plus 1 tablespoon for coating pan
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Coat a 9″x 13″ x 1-1/2″-inch pan with butter. Flour the pan with 1 tablespoon flour, shake out excess.
Melt chocolate pieces and butter over a double boiler (place a heat-proof bowl over a small saucepot with boiling water). Stir periodically to prevent burning, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat when almost totally melted, stir to finish melting, set aside. With an electric mixer on high, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla until thick, about 2 minutes. Add chocolate mixture, preserves and sour cream, mixing until fully incorporated. Sift in flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Mix until just combined.
Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool at room temperature for 5 minutes then refrigerate 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.
NOTE: Use your favorite preserve here. Raspberry, blueberry, apricot, peach would all taste great!