grape leafMore and more leaves can be eaten these days.  Iceberg lettuce used to be all the rage a century ago or so, but now we have kale, chard, dandelion greens, spinach, arugula, bok choy, etc…  And the more obscure they are, the healthier they are for you, it seems!

And with the production of oil 100 years ago, more and more of these obscure leaves (and other fruit, vegetables, and the like) can be brought fresh to our grocery stores.  Which brings me to grape leaves.  These ancient relic are not in vogue with other leafy greens, maybe because they are not fresh and seem ancient.

Grape leaf rolls seem to be a delicacy, as opposed to kale, and the other leafy greens like spinach that we can eat in more and more ways.  We are so into the whole local, fresh movement here in America, that who would buy grape leaves when there’s so much more to choose from?

Grape leaves seem fruity and has the history of wine behind it.  It doesn’t look like you should eat them, but their history is thousands of years old.  The grape and wine are more nutritious than the leaf, but other leaves are more valuable than grape leaves, in terms of symbolism.  Fig, oak, strawberry, apple, beets, honeysuckle, and grape leaves all produce kinds of fruit (or nuts like acorns) of some sort, and their leaves are artistic and celebrated as symbols of happiness.

Grape leaves seem kind of gross; like we eat them just to pay tribute to the grape.  They’re edible and the grape must give them some flavor or vice versa.  It’s interesting that they are edible.  I don’t know of any other real food with a leaf in which we eat the leaf, unless you count beets!

Lettuce is really just something that’s come into their own in the last 100 years or so, but grape leaves have some history.

Grapevines were grown in Mesopotamia (which includes Greece, Turkey, and Arab countries) and it is in Greece where wine was invented.  Mind you, this was six thousands years before the Romans introduced wine to Britain and refined the wine process.  Grapes (and of course wine) are so huge everywhere in the world, but stuffed grape leaf rolls are not especially popular.  They’re probably a food that we feel we should eat to appreciate where wine comes from.

Maybe the under the radar wine countries that boast stuffed grape leaves (Romania, Turkey, Vietnam, Arabic, Bulgaria) would rather be proud of their stuffed grape leaves than their wine, because other countries far outstrip their wines’ quality and quantity.

So I made stuffed grape leaves today, and was super scared about making them because I didn’t want to have to eat all of them (there were like 50 grape leaves in a tiny bottle!).  I’ve had grape leaves before and wasn’t particularly pleased with the taste, but thought the stuffing would make up for the gag factor this time.  I decided to make a vegetarian stuffing with zucchini, carrots, eggplant, onion, and tomato, cilantro, and rice.

I guess they turned out ok because the filling tasted better than the leaf (thank God), but they seemed kind of old-fashioned.  However, since they are such a Middle Eastern food, I decided they must be good for me, and so with that, I will decidedly have one (or two) for dinner tonight and see what my college friend thinks of them when I take them to her house tomorrow night.

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persia

What I know about Iran is that it seems to be very much its own country and most consistently does not like the USA, or at least doesn’t want to be influenced by them.  I’ve seen my share of Iranian films, such as (most recently) A Separation and a variety of films starring children (Children of Heaven, White Balloon, Color of Paradise, and Turtles can Fly) with themes of innocence and simplicity.  It seemed to me that a lot of the children in these movies were fending for themselves out in the real world during the Iran crisis.

The films seemed very upbeat and focused on beauty in the crazy life around them.  It was almost like their culture was under attack and the children were saving the country from collapse with their innocent view of the world.  But that’s only my reflection.

One writer, Richard Nelson Frye, says that Iran’s most prized possession is their culture, which makes me think that the US could learn a lot from them.  America seems so focused on influencing other countries with our “culture” that I can understand why there is so much friction between us and other countries; especially countries that have ancient history with governments that are forced to change with the times, such as those from the Middle East.

Iran has gone through a hell of a lot of changes in the past thirty to forty years, such as the overthrow of the government.   It’s weird how the Middle East seems so rich in some countries (in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait)  and so conflicted in others (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Israel).  However, USA influenced Israel may have the best of both worlds in this case.

Maybe they should all join together like the European Union, but there seems to be too much at stake and also seems to be too late for that, in terms of geography, people, culture and oil.   Does culture rule over commerce?  It seems like it’s the one thing we respect and won’t go to war over.  But I’ve heard of stories of US officials in Syria who loved the country and got killed; maybe they (conflicted Middle Eastern countries) think we’re trying to change them like the US does with every other country, and they have a great pride in who they are and don’t want to be reformed.  If I’m right, I feel that they have every reason to think their culture is greater than our’s, because who are we to judge their tens of thousands of years of culture with our 300 year old one?

I saw the movie Argo, which is about American hostages taken in by Iran during their revolution; I thought it was very interesting that the CIA faked being a film crew in Iran and got Iran’s respect by wanting to film a movie there.  It seems that if the US wanted to film movies in coming of age countries that need the business, then respecting their culture seems to be the way to go.  Just look at Iraq.  It’s right next to Iran and it seems like it needs some serious image counseling.  What if US overtakes Iraq completely?  Will we go to war with Iran if the Iraq war continues for another ten years?

But let’s switch topics now to what this blog is really about: food.

The thing about Persian food is it wants the best of both worlds: Indian and Middle Eastern.  Maybe that’s why it’s located in between the Middle East and Asia.  Iran has a great location and that, plus the oil, seems to be the making of a powerhouse.  But I digress.  I notice in looking at Persian menus that saffron is a favorite spice.  And almonds, pistachios, and citrus are other staples.  Persian food almost seems like a delicacy, like you have to be in the know to get the good stuff.

But I must cook something from Persia/Iran because they seem particular about their spices, cuisine, and culture.  I’ll be back soon with some (hopefully) authentic basmati rice with saffron, slivered almonds and orange peel.  I will try to cook the basmati rice in the correct way so it is fluffy.  Cheers!