Archive for February, 2006

The Soup Lady has just returned from a trip to Baltimore, a city which – according to the hotel room tv channels –  seems to be composed of only the Inner Harbor and the carcasses of millions of dead crabs. One cannot escape the city without engaging a crab in some shape or form, be it food, a tshirt that says "Don’t Bother Me I’m Crabby" or some tasty claw chocolate in the form of a crab-shaped candy bar.

You can use fresh cooked, frozen or canned crab meat for this recipe. In a minimally processed recipe like this one, the quality of the ingredients – the scotch as well as the crab meat – will affect the quality of the finished product. Never use imiation crab meat, despite it’s jolly identification as  "krab".


1/2 – 3/4 pound of crab meat
1/4 cup of butter
1 cup of heavy cream
1/4 cup of Scotch whiskey
1 quart of milk
and  pepper
Old Bay Seasoning

1. Prepare the crab meat by picking through it to remove any bits of shell or cartilage  and then shredding the meat into small pieces.
2. Melt the butter in  a saucepan over low heat and then add the crab meat and the heavy cream, followed by whiskey.
3. Stir over medium low heat until the mixture is heated through.
4. Stir in the milk and pepper and then taste for seasoning. Depending in which form of crab meat you are using*, the additional salt needed  may vary.
5. Stir frequently to avoid scorching and heat until very hot throughout – never bring to a boil.
6. Serve in individual pre-heated bowls and garnish with a  pinch of Old Bay Seasoning in the center of the bowl.

WholeHeatlhMD.com lists the different types of crab – Alaskan King Crab is sold as fronzen meat and is readily availabe anywhere, but for that true Baltimore taste experience, its the Blue Claws that you need. Knowing the difference between the types and origin can help you choose the crab that is best suited for its final use:

*Crabs are sold live, and their meat–delicately sweet, firm yet flaky–is available fresh cooked, frozen, and canned. Fresh crabmeat is sold as lump, backfin, or flake. Lump crabmeat, which consists of large, choice chunks of body meat, is the finest and most expensive. Backfin is smaller pieces of body meat. Flake is white meat from the body and other parts and is in flakes and shreds. Some fresh-cooked crab is pasteurized after cooking, which helps it keep longer. Canned crab is often imported from Asia and may come from a variety of species."  wholehealthMD.com

Other helpful information on this site lists how to select, "prepare" (kill) and cook live crabs.


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Stuffed Grapeleaves

The Soup Lady has something you don’t have:  stuffed grapeleaves on demand. Yes, our mister was born in Egypt and when he came to the U.S., he brought along the recipes and kitchen techniques of his mother. His standards are exacting – every dish must live up to his memory of childhood perfection. I doubt very much if every dish was as picture-perfect as he remembers but picture-perfect is what he wants.

This greatly works to my advantage because whenever the menu calls for one of those classic dishes, such as babaganoush or tabouleh, he trusts no one. I don’t mind in the least giving up kitchen control especially when the end result of a labor-intensive dish as this is so delicious.

These are the grapeleaves he’s been making for all the years of our married life. Our children have been helping since they were very small and under his tutelage, have become proficient and are able to produce according to his standard. What that means for me is that anytime I want them, all I have to do is threaten to make them by my Lithuaniain self and someone with Egyptian blood coursing through their veins will intervene. Sweet!

Like all authentic ethnic recipes that have made their way to America, this one has no exact measurements. For your sake, I tried to estimate amounts but really you should follow your instincts. There are only a few things you need to know:

  • There should never be more rice than meat.
  • Never use the leanest blend of chopped meat. 88% lean is ideal, in my opinion. 93% leanis good for nothing. You need a little fat to get the right flavor for the juice.
  • The rolls must be thin and tight.
  • Never skimp on the garlic.
  • No matter how many times you tell someone that "allspice" is not "all spices in one bottle", they won’t believe you.
  • The smallest, thinnest finished rolls are the most prized.


2 pounds of chopped meat
1  1/4 cup of long-grain rice, uncooked
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
one large jar of grape leaves
5 fresh limes
two heads of garlic
dried mint leaves

(all images are thumbnails. click to enlarge)

FillingMix the meat, the rice, the allspice and the cinnamon together in a bowl. No salt is necessary because the grape vine leaves are packed in brine and that will add to the final flavor. The measurements are inexact, but the proper ratio of meat-to-rice should look like this.

RollingThe best grape leaves to use are also the easiest to find- Orlando Grape Leaves from California. It’s not unheard of to use the leaves of those pesky wild grape vines that plague your landscaping but you have to boil them first and they really are not as tender, flavorfull or as easy to work with as the bottled variety. Take the leaves out of the bottle, unroll and drain but do not rinse. Select a single leaf and start by cutting off the stem. Place the  leaf onto a plate with the smooth, shiny side down.

Ready_to_roll_1Use a spare amount of the meat filling and place it in a thin log shape onto the leaf slightly above where the stem used to be. Use a smaller amount of filling than  you think use should.

To make the stuffed grapeleaf, start by folding the lower flaps up towards the point of the leaf, covering the meat. Using your fingertips, roll the thing away from you a half-turn.

Rolling2Fold in the side flaps and then continue rolling until you reach the top of the leaf. The next part is critical to the quality of the finished product:

Line_upBring the roll close to you and use the palm of your hand to apply gentle pressure while rolling the thing away from you again. You can, if necessary, then  use a back-and -forth rolling motion to even out the filling inside the rolled leaf. This is the step that insures that the rolls are uniform and tight and will prevent unrolling in the pot and messy falling apart when you lift it up to eat it.

In_the_potThe acceptable limits, according to that high personal standard mentioned before, is that no finished roll may be bigger than your index finger. The preferred size is no bigger than your pinky finger. Place the rolls into a large stock pot, placed tightly next to one another. Fill the bottom of the pot entirely before you move on to the next layer.

Pot_fullAdd the peeled garlic cloves and enough crushed, dried mint leaves to cover the surface. Cut the limes in half and squeeze the juice on top of the rolls in the pot.

January_06_119Place an inverted plate big enough to cover most of the surface of the rolls inside the pot. (Ours is weighted with pieces of marble. I don’t recommend that, but he insists.)  Add enough water to reach the top of the rolls. Pout it gently down the side of the pot so as not to disturb the arrangement of the rolls, mint and garlic.  Sometimes he adds more lime juice at this point.

Set the pot on the burner and bring to just boiling. You don’t want to wildly boil and risk unrolling in the pot. Reduce the heat to get a slow rolling boil for 30 minutes, just enough to cook the meat and rice. Turn off heat and remove the plates. Remove the grape leaf rolls one by one with tongs.

How to eat: Consume everything. Choose the smallest ones for yourself put them on your plate with some of the pot liquor. Pick up the stuffed grapeleaf rolls with your fingers. Eat the garlic cloves, eat the mint, consume the pot liquor. Serve with warm pita bread, hummus and/or plain yogurt. Use the bread as a vehicle for the hummus, the yogurt and the pot liquor. Pot liquor. Pot liquor. I like to say that.  Refrigerate leftovers in a spot where it is hard for others to get to, assuring that you will benefit the most from others labor.

Yield: a great big potfull. These reheat in a microwave without problem. Be sure to add some pot liqour when you reheat them. Pot liquor.

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