Back when I was an undergraduate at the University of Windsor, my first boyfriend and I (hiya, Mark! How’s tricks?) would regularly venture across the Ambassador bridge to the Greektown in Detroit (quite literally, a stone’s throw away). That’s where I first tasted saganaki–kefalotyri cheese (like an aristocratic feta) doused in brandy and set aflame in the pan, right by your table, to raucous chants of “OPA!” and clapping from anyone in the vicinity. The semi-melted cheese, crispy on the outsideand soft on the inside, was chewy, melty, oily, salty (basically any adjective ending in “-y”) and I absolutely adored it plonked on big, cushy pieces of Greek bread.
When the HH and I got together, we lived near the Greek area of Toronto and regularly indulged in our fair share of saganaki as well. Then I was diagnosed with IBS and changed my diet dramatically. Basically, I abandoned saganaki along with the rest of the restaurant’s menu–it was all Greek to me (or, at least, to my digestive system).
But there was one item in which I could still indulge, and still eat with gusto and impunity: dolmades.
Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’re probably familiar with these bite-sized stuffed grape leaves. Like my mother’s cabbage rolls of yore, the dolmades use smaller, softer grape leaves and roll them around a log of rice filling. And while they are most often served with ground meat, they can be found in vegetarian versions as well, which I enjoy immensely.
I’ve always dreamt of making my own, home-made, dolmades. It’s a shame, then, that I’m just basically too lazy to do so. Who wants to spend 3 hours of prepping and rolling just so the HH and I can devour them in 10 minutes? And that’s where Deconstruction came in.
In university, I “studied” a literary theory called Deconstruction, which supposedly demonstrated how language has no inherent meaning, and words are just representations of our preconceived, culturally determined notions (the approach was characterized, primarily, by the generous use of parentheses, dashes and slashes in their writing.)
Well, I hated Deconstruction. In fact, if someone had (de)constructed Deconstruction and left it to fade into oblivion in its little de/con(structed) sentence frag(me)nts, I would not have minded one bit. I recall sitting round seminar tables during my M.A. degree and squirming as I listened to the other students pontificate about Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, and a non-linear group of other the(or)ists. I kept thinking, “What the heck are these people talking about?! This makes no sense to me.” (Later, after years of psychological trauma believing I was a numbskulled cretin, I discovered that none of them actually knew what they were talking about, either; they were just better at tossing around all that postmodern, poststructuralist, etymological, phenomenological mumbo-jumbo).
My favorite use of this approach was the (now famous) re-structuring of the word “therapist” as “(the)rapist,” supposedly exposing our culturally-specific, misogynistic, subtext of the word. But I think the theory reached its all-time apex of absurdity in the form of a book we were asked to study as PhD students, in which the author filled individual (separate, unbound) pages with random words, piled the pages into a box like a set of stationery, then asked the students to dump the contents of the box onto a large table, shuffle the pages, and critique the results. I don’t remember any of the “re-visioning” of the text we came up with, but I am fairly certain that many a PhD student who’d “read” that book had a good, long supply of birdcage liners for many years to follow.
And so, in an ironic return to the reviled principles of Deconstruction, I decided to focus my attention not on the hidden meanings in the structure of words, but in the hidden flavors in the structure of grape leaves. The resultant Mediterranean Rice Casserole is an unconventional, unstructured mixture of brown rice, chopped collards (which stand in for grape leaves here) and spices reminiscent of the original dish. It both is/and is not an accurate rendition of dolmades, and your interpretation of its flavor shifts constantly, depending on the particular arrangement–never the same twice–of individual elements in each specific bite.
The flavors will remind you of a long-ago meal in a Greek restaurant. At the same time, the structure of the dish will remind you of a child’s kaleidoscope, ever shifting as you peer into the tube. Is there any way to interpret a consistent meaning for this dish? Is there any signficance to the particular arrangement of fragmented colors in the casserole? Can we extract some symbolic, gender-specific and pre-existing cultural stereotype from this dish?
Naw. So let’s just forget about all that theory, get ready to eat, and heartily par(take) of this de/lec(table) meal.
“Mum, you’re really not making any sense here. . . but can we deconstruct the leftovers?”
Mediterranean Rice Casserole
A great way to use up extra rice and any kind of green leafy vegetables, this dish comes together quickly and works well as both a main course or a side.
2 cups (500 ml.) cooked brown rice
1/4 cup (60 ml.) organic extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (60 ml.) lightly roasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
1/2 cup (125 ml.) raisins
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
1/2 cup (125 ml.) chopped parsley
juice of one medium lemon (about 3 Tbsp. or 45 ml.)
2 Tbsp.(30 ml.) balsamic vinegar
large bunch spinach, collards, or chard, washed and chopped
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) dried dill weed
2 tsp. (10 ml.) dried thyme
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. (3.5 ml.) ground allspice
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) paprika
sea salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). In a large pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onion is golden brown, around 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except for rice and stir well. Turn heat to minimum, cover, and let simmer for about 5 minutes to combine flavours and allow greens to wilt.
Add rice and mix well. Turn the mixture into a greased casserole and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Makes 8 side dish servings or 4 entree servings. May be frozen.