Vegetarian stuffed Swiss chard (Mehshi silo bil-zeyt)
Stuffing leaves are traditional in the Middle East with the most common leaf being grape leaves and cabbage. The stuffing is usually meat but in recent times rice and chickpeas and other vegetarian fillings are becoming more common. The use of chard is also newer as this vegetable became more available in the markets.
The essence of this dish is in notes of sourness, from the sumac and tomatoes. The herbs add a lovely pop of earthiness and the chard are redolent is in the sauce. The rice cooks in the broth and gets scented with the flavours. This dish is the perfect side for any meal but be warned that it is a heavy side that can also be served as a main course for vegetarians.
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For the stuffing:
3/4 cup rice
3 very ripe tomatoes, finely diced, or 1/2-3/4 cup tomato purée
6 scallions, cut into fine circles
A handful of parsley, minced
1/4 cup mint, minced
2 tablespoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
A drizzle of olive oil
10-12 leaves of Swiss chard
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup water, or as needed
Salt, to taste
Mix all the ingredients for the stuffing. Taste and adjust seasonings. You are looking for a lovely flavour that is bright and wonderful.
Cut the Swiss chard leaves along the stems removing them. If the leaves are small, keep them whole removing just the tough parts. Steam the leaves for 2-3 minutes to make them soft and pliable.
Add a layer of sliced tomatoes to a 9X9 baking dish.
Lay a leaf on a flat surface and fill it with 2-3 teaspoons of the rice mix. Fold the leaf, or roll it to form a loose pouch completely enclosing the rice. Add the package on top of the tomatoes keeping the folded surface on the bottom so they do not open up. You want the packages to be loose so the rice can expand while cooking. Finish with the rest of the rice and leaves filling up the baking dish.
Layer the top of the leaves with tomatoes and pour in the water and sprinkle with salt. Tightly seal the dish with foil. You can prepare the dish to this stage up to a day before. and store in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 375° F.
If chilled, bring the tray up to room temperature. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and if there is a lot of water left, bake for an additional 10-15 minutes till you have a thick sauce.