Sometimes inspiration comes in strangely circuitous ways.
I was teaching a class the other night, and my menu included the Lentil Rice Rolls with Taratoor Sauce from my first book, The New Whole Grain Cookbook. It’s funny, I’ve created so many recipes over the years, that sometimes I forget to make them. So, remembering how much I like them, I had put these in a class that featured vegan food for summer.
Like an old friend that I hadn’t seen a while, the lentil rice rolls were familiar and exciting to rediscover. Basically, they are a riff on the stuffed grape leaves that you find in Middle Eastern Delis, next to the hummus. Instead of the usual white rice, they have a filling of brown rice, sauteed onions, and lentils, and the wrapper is a blanched collard leaf, instead of a grape leaf. It could have ended there, with a bunch of happy people eating them up, but I kept thinking about them. Especially, because before class, I was talking collards with one of the people helping me set up. He had bountiful rows of collards and kale in his garden, too, and was enjoying grilling the sturdy greens.
Of course, it came to me, I had to try making a collard wrap and grilling it.
You see, collards are the hefty, often elephant ear sized leaves that are synonymous with Southern cooking. Down South, they are slow-stewed with ham or bacon, and perhaps a chile or two, until they are gunmetal grey and falling apart tender. They become soft and delicious that way, but there is more to a collard than a mess of greens. I have been slivering them and massaging them with dressing, pureeing them in soups, even juicing them in my green juice blends.
But now I was inspired.
Like kale, collards are nutrition superstars, with 100 grams providing 30 calories, 2 g protein, 133% of the vitamin A, 59% of the C, 14% of the calcium and 5% of the iron you need for the day. But where they really excel is in the antioxidant category, with lots of anti-cancer compounds hiding in those big green leaves.
So, I decided to make a really yummy filling for the rolls, with quinoa, another superstar, and a hunk of avocado in each one, to provide a melting richness that would be almost cheesy. That and the sesame lemon sauce that I had always made for the other rolls, and it had to be good. The one thing I wasn’t sure of, was whether the collards should go on the roll raw, or lightly blanched.
Turned out, either way is fine, although I think the pre-cooked ones were a little better.
So if you want to fire up the grill for a greens-wrapped dinner or appetizer, these babies will hit the spot!
Grilled Quinoa-Avocado Collard Rolls with Tahini Dip
Makes about 14-20 rolls, depending on the size of your collards
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large onions
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup minced parsley
About 10 big collard leaves
boiling water, if desired
olive oil for coating the rolls
1/4 cup tahini
2 cloves garlic, pressed
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sriracha Sauce, to taste
First, put the quinoa and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the salt and cover, and put over lowest heat for 14 minutes. The water should be absorbed. Take off the heat and let cool. While that cooks, saute the onions in a large saute pan, reducing the heat as you go along, and cook for as long as you can-they only get better the more you caramelize them. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more, then take off the heat and scrape into the quinoa. Stir in the parsley.
To blanch the collards, slice out each rib, then drop the leafy parts into boiling water for one minute. Drain and cool. To use raw, just take out the ribs. If your collard leaves are not huge, try cutting the rib out while leaving the leaf in one piece, then overlapping the bottom of the leaves to make a larger piece for rolling. You can also overlap two small leaves to make a larger wrapper.
Spoon a portion of the quinoa filling on the bottom of each leaf, and fold the edges in and roll up. Place seam side down on a plate. Drizzle all the rolls with olive oil and turn to coat.
To Grill, heat the grill and reduce to low on one side. Place the rolls on the cooler side and sear to mark, then turn frequently until marked and warmed through.
For sauce: Stir together all ingredients and chill until time to serve.