Eprax (Kurdish Stuffed Vegetables and Lamb)
For the stuffing mix:
- 3cups Basmati rice
- 1pound ground lamb or beef
- 1tablespoon kosher salt
- 2teaspoons black pepper
- 2tablespoons minced garlic
- 2tablespoons minced yellow onion
- 1(6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 1cup diced celery
- 1small tomato, diced
- 3tablespoons lemon juice
- 1tablespoon garam masala
- 2teaspoons paprika
- 2teaspoons curry powder
- 2tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1tablespoon fresh finely chopped parsley
For the vegetables:
- 1large yellow onion, trimmed and peeled
- 1(3-pound) head green cabbage
- 20roughly hand-size grape leaves (from an 8-ounce jar)
- 2bell peppers or large tomatoes, or a combination
- 1large eggplant
- 1russet potato
- 4(3/4-inch-thick) lamb loin chops
- Salt and black pepper
- 2tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- ½medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons or semicircles
- 1tablespoon lemon juice
- 1Kurdish flatbread or 4 Indian naan, for serving (optional)
- Make the filling: Rinse rice in colander until water runs clear. Transfer to large bowl, add water to cover, and let soak for 30 minutes.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground meat, salt and pepper and sauté over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, breaking up meat with a spoon. Stir in garlic and onions and sauté for 1 minute, stirring.
- Reduce heat to low and mix in tomato paste, celery, tomato, lemon juice, spices, oil and parsley. Remove from heat. Drain rice. Add meat mixture to rice, mix well to combine, cover, and set aside to cool.
- Prepare the vegetables: Fill a microwave-safe bowl with an inch of water. Using a knife, make a cut halfway from the side just into the center of the onion (so it is not fully cut in half). Place onion in bowl and microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, until onion has swelled and become soft, and layers are pliable. Remove from water, drain and let cool. Repeat with cabbage, making a cut into its core and placing in a bowl with water. Microwave for 5 to 10 minutes, until leaves become pliable, and can be easily separated from the head. (Remove outer layers as they soften while cooking.) Cut leaves into pieces about the size of your palm. (Alternatively, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook onion for 5 minutes, and cabbage for 10 minutes.)
- Soak grape leaves in cold water in a mixing bowl until ready to use. Cut any leaves bigger than the palm of your hand in half.
- Cut a 1/2-inch-thick lid off each bell pepper or tomato, or both, reserving lids. Core and seed each, so the center of each piece can be stuffed.
- Cut off stem end of eggplant, then cut in half so you have two short cylinders about the height of a bell pepper, and use a knife to cut out the middle of each piece of eggplant, leaving a roughly 1/2-inch wall, so there is a cavity you can stuff.
- Peel potato. Halve and carve out the center with a spoon so there is room to stuff each half.
- To assemble: Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season lamb chops with salt and pepper, then add to skillet. Sear 2 to 3 minutes per side, until evenly brown. Set aside.
- Lightly grease bottom of a large pot with a lid (10 to 12 quarts) with 1 teaspoon oil. Arrange squash pieces in a circle on the bottom of the pot. Place lamb chops on top.
- Fill about 20 grape leaves: Place a grape leaf (with the bumpier veined side of the leaf up) on a surface, with the stem closest to you. Place 1 scant tablespoon rice mixture near the stem. Roll up leaf to form a roughly 2-inch cigar shape, folding ends over halfway through rolling. Repeat with remaining leaves, and fit into pot between and over chops. Season with salt and pepper.
- Loosely stuff peppers or tomatoes or both, cover with their lids, and place in pot on their sides. Loosely stuff eggplant and potatoes, and place in pot on their sides.
- Separate cooled onion into its individual layers, so you have 6 to 8 individual curved pieces whose ends meet to form little tubes. (Don’t use the smallest pieces.) Loosely fill onion layers, as if you were stuffing Italian-style pasta shells, and fit them in between the other vegetables to fill gaps. Season with salt and pepper.
- Use remaining rice mixture to stuff as many cabbage leaves as you can, then use stuffed leaves to create a top layer in the pot. (If you don’t have enough stuffing to make a full layer of stuffed leaves, cover the stuffed vegetables by draping them with leftover cabbage leaves.) Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle lemon juice over top.
- Add water to pot until it comes about halfway up the sides of the vegetables (about 2 inches below the top layer). Cover pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook at a hard simmer for 10 minutes.
- Drizzle vegetables with 2 tablespoons oil, then cover pot again, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for 35 to 45 minutes more, or until rice is cooked and much of the liquid has been absorbed. To check for doneness, cut into one of the leaf bundles on top and check to see that the rice inside is fully cooked; to check the liquid, tilt the pot so you can get a sense of the water level. If there is more than 1/2 inch water, carefully drain off excess.
- Place a large circular platter or tray on top of pot and carefully invert the pot onto platter, tapping bottom of pot to loosen any remaining ingredients before removing it. (If you’d like, line tray with flatbread first before turning out dolmas, or serve flatbread on the side. The bread absorbs the excess water.) Pat any stray vegetables back into a big pile. Serve in the center of the table.