To me, one of the most fun things about shopping at The Wild Ramp is that you never know what you’ll find in the market on any given day. It’s like a treasure hunt and a farmer’s market wrapped all into one. Even while you’re shopping, a farmer might walk in with a load of wineberries or pawpaw jelly or zebra tomatoes, or something else you’ve never tried – and you’ll have first dibs because you’re there!
A few weekends ago, I popped into The Wild Ramp to pick up some eggs, and came across a prepackaged kit from a new vendor- Untamed Garden– for dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves. If you haven’t heard of these, don’t worry- I only know about stuffed grape leaves because in high school I had a wonderful friend Linda whose Lebanese mother used to make them. When they were underway, the warm smell of the herbs, lamb and rice stuffing would fill their whole house, and my friend Linda and I would watch as her mother deftly rolled the stuffing into the grape leaves. The taste was mysterious and foreign- a bit sweet and a bit meaty and a bit nutty and just all around tasty and unique for a girl who grew up in North Carolina eating mostly pretty typical southern food.
I looked at the kit, and at first was intimidated by the idea of trying it. But my friend Linda was also one of the most free and adventurous spirits I’ve ever known… and she died of breast cancer a few weeks before her 40th birthday. I went back to the table and before I could think too long or logically about it, I picked up the package and told myself I’d try it- in loving memory of that strong passionate woman who would always try anything once.
The kit included the grape leaves, garlic, dill and mint, and the all-important step-by-step directions. Other things you needed were listed- rice, lamb, olive oil, lemons. So while I was at the market, I also picked up a package of ground lamb from Gardner Farm. Then it was time to go home and see if I could make dolmas that tasted similar to the ones I had eaten over at Linda’s house back when I was a teenager.
The first steps were easy- cook the rice and the lamb. Then you added the minced herbs from the kit- garlic, dill and mint.
Next you added the olive oil and lemon juice and mixed it all together and the stuffing was done. And wow- did it smell good!
The grape leaves themselves were boiled for 10 minutes, then put in a cold water bath.
Wrapping them into dolmas was not nearly as difficult as I had imagined, though I certainly wasn’t as coordinated as Linda’s mother. I removed the stems, then spooned some stuffing in the middle. Then I folded up the bottom, folded in from the outsides, and rolled it up, placing it a low frying pan on top of other grape leaves so they didn’t stick. I was amazed! I was actually making stuffed grape leaves that resembled those I had enjoyed all those years ago!
After drizzling with olive oil and more lemon juice, you covered the dolmas with boiling water and simmered them for about 2 hours.
The directions were to serve the dolmas cold, but everything smelled so good that the entire household was impatient, so we tried them warm, and they were delicious! The cooked grape leaves added a nutty taste to the stuffing, which was sweet, meaty, and flavorful all at once.
I was really surprised how easy and fun this project was, and both my husband and toddler loved the results.
Most importantly, it reminded me that it’s a good thing to occasionally step out of your comfort zone and try something new- something you haven’t undertaken before, whether it be a food that’s hard to find, or an activity or skill you’ve always wanted to try. It reminded me that it’s never too late to learn about cooking with new ingredients or new techniques. It reminded me that one of the most important joys of life is trying- and hopefully succeeding, as I did here- with new skills and challenges.
And I’d like to think that Linda- that passionate, brave, adventurous soul- is looking down and is proud of me.
The Wild Ramp is celebrating its One Year Birthday! You, the community, built this market and through your generous support made our first year very successful. Please help us celebrate the new things to come by continuing your support. We ask for our birthday that you consider looking at our birthday wish list locatedhttp://goo.gl/moHx1 , stopping by to make a contribution to our donation patch, or to sign up for volunteer hours to help the market’s continued success. Thanks! Let’s make this a birthday to remember! #TWRTurns1