The thing is, stuffed grape leaves -- a Lebanese delicacy -- are not referred to as "stuffed grape leaves" in our family. No, in our family, we call them wada. Short for wada-ah-ashe. Which, apparently, in the official Arabic-to English translation, is warak-a-ashe.
Wada-ah-ashe is gastronomic ecstasy. Since we were tiny tots, it's always the part of the Lebanese feast that gets eaten first, therefore the rolled pieces of heaven have to be counted and allocated per plate. When we were kids our Sittoo -- Dad's mom -- let us taste them while she was cooking in the kitchen. She'd tell us to come in and test the "hot dogs and beans" to see if they were ready. Swoon.
Ten or so years ago in Mom and Dad's kitchen in Norwalk, Uffie -- Sittoo's daughter and Dad's sister -- gave my sisters and me a tutorial on the fine art of Lebanese cooking (which our Irish mom had mastered years earlier) and she dictated the recipes, which I dutifully typed into our laptop. Unfortunately, we did *not* have access to Sittoo's recipe last weekend; thankfully, enough of my sisters have good Lebanese memory and good cooking skills and we had plenty of peeps and plenty of enthusiasm and as Jacquie reported, they came out divinely.
And since last weekend I've unearthed the warak-a-ashe recipe. And even though it is an old secret family recipe, well, I'm going to share it with you all; it's too awesome not to.
Share the love, yo.*
Picking grape leaves:
•Look for wild white grape vines in mid-June/early July.
•The greener the back of the leaf, the tenderer the leaf. White leafed backs are tough.
•Good spot: Nursery Road in Norwalk.
•Soak in a dishpan then wash each one carefully
•Spread out to try on paper towel or dishtowel
•Package according to small, medium or large patches, with bigger leaves on the bottom of the pile.
•Wrap tightly in tin foil, put into plastic bags, freeze; they last forever.
•Start with larger grapeleaves for bottom layer, smaller leaves for next layers.
• Cover bottom of pot with several large grapesleaves, shiny side up.
• Place salad-sized dish upside down on top of leaves.
• Sprinkle moderately with salt on top of plate.
• Sprinkle couple dollops of lemon juice on top.
• Add water until you can see water when you top the pan.
• Bring to a boil.
• Let boil for few minutes.
• Taste the liquid (tip the pot) for adequate seasoning – you should be able to taste a hint of lemon.
• Lower to active simmer.
• Cook for one hour.*
*(It totally takes two).
And . . . Voilà!