Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Except, I wound up stuffing collards instead. I was tempted to just remake the incredibly delicious stuffed grape leaves that I made this summer, but it wouldn’t be terribly daring to make something you had already made before – no matter how delicious – now would it?! And, I didn’t have anymore grape leaves. The challenge was open to stuffing all sorts of tougher greens, and the filling was also open to us. So, it was the perfect opportunity to try to use creatively whatever I had, which was collard greens.
I looked at a couple of recipes for stuffed collards, and most of them were similar to some of the traditional stuffed grape leaves recipes, using a mixture of rice, ground beef, and spices to stuff the greens, and then baking them in a tomato based sauce. But, once I was thinking in the middle eastern direction, suddenly all these visions of things like couscous, and feta, and exotic spice blends started popping into my head. Well, that, and I had just used up all the tomato sauce I had making a kind of Mediterranean spiced meat and tomato sauce, but I had lots leftover. So, I decided to experiment.
I blanched the leaves as directed, filled them with a mixture of spiced couscous, feta, and roasted red pepper that I made, and then baked them in my leftover tomato sauce. In all honesty, I was pretty skeptical of my own creation when I set it down on the table at dinner time. I was really afraid it was going to be a crazy disaster, but luckily my spice coordination between the couscous and sauce payed off. As soon as Joel and I took our respective tentative bites, we looked at each other smiling and proclaimed, “this is really quite good!” No need to order a redemptive pizza, whatsoever. The stuffed collards give you a fun combination of textures, from the hearty meat sauce, the fluffy couscous, and the springy leaves, hitting your mouth in layers, kind of like what you get with a lasagna or enchiladas. Except, well, leafier. I guess you should expect that if you’re stuffing leaves. And the spices, vegetables, and cheese are warm and fragrant. I can say for certain, I will be stuffing leaves again!
Couscous Stuffed Collards (serves 2-3)
For stuffed leaves:
- 1 bunch collards (about 12 leaves)
- 1 10-oz. box couscous
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 small roasted red pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta
- 1 jar tomato sauce
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1/2 lb. ground beef, optional
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp. each cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and cardamom
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a small pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil, with the butter, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, and salt. Once it is boiling, stir in the couscous, turn off the heat, and let it sit covered for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff the couscous and stir in the feta and roasted pepper. Set aside.
- Wash the collard greens and cut off their stems. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the collards and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and run cold water over the leaves to stop the cooking. Set aside on a towel to dry while you prepare the sauce.
- In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil, then add the onion and garlic and cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the onion is softened. If using the ground beef, add this and cook it, breaking it into chunks, until it is completely brown, about another 5 minutes. Stir in the sauce spices and cook one minute, until fragrant. Then, stir in the tomato sauce and cook for about 5 more minutes over medium.
- Heat your oven to 350F. Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9X13 baking pan. Lay out the collard leaves, one at a time, put a large scoop of the filling towards the end of the leaf, then roll up the leaf, tucking in the sides. The spine of the leaf should be like a band down the middle. Put each leaf bundle, with the ends tucked under, into the baking pan. Repeat with all the leaves (you may have some filling leftover at the end), then spread the rest of the sauce over the leaves. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes until hot and bubbling. Serve accompanied with a salad and if desired some pita breads. Or just by themselves!