Cooking the Books: Stabbed in the Baklava by Tina Kashian

Lucy Berberian is finally easing into her role of restaurant manager after a somewhat contentious handover in the previous book in the Kebab Kitchen Mystery series. Her biggest challenges so far are persuading her stubborn father, Raffi, to let her overhaul their inventory management system and learning how to cook better (read: at all) from her mother, Angela. Her parents have allegedly retired but still take an active interest in the running of the Mediterranean restaurant they founded together over 30 years ago.

So everyone is pretty thrilled when a famous socialite walks in the door of their Jersey Shore establishment and asks about catering for 250 people. Scarlet Westwood is getting married in Ocean Crest and specifically wants Kebab Kitchen to provide the food. Her soon-to-be-husband, director Bradford Papadopolous, has raved about how it reminds him of childhood meals. Lucy knows this could be a big deal for the family restaurant, so she is willing to ignore an overbearing wedding planner and her own mixed emotions about working so closely with her ex-boyfriend Azad Zakarian, who happens to be Kebab Kitchen’s new head chef. What she can’t ignore, though, is finding the corpse of the best man stabbed to death in the restaurant’s catering van.

Suspicion immediately falls upon Azad, who had earlier that day very publicly confronted the dead man, Henry Simms, over the latter’s shady business practices. Turns out, Henry was the president of the local bank and had a seeming penchant for alcohol, gambling, and infidelity. All of these give plenty of people reason to want to murder him, but Lucy cannot fathom the idea that Azad could be one of them. With the help of her best friend, Katie Watson, she decides to clear Azad’s name and put the real killer behind bars.

I really enjoyed the glimpse into Armenian culture that Tina Kashian provides with this delightful cozy mystery. Her depiction of life on the Jersey Shore was wholly convincing, and now I’m daydreaming of a late summer vacation to a small town on the Atlantic coast that will hopefully also have a homey Mediterranean restaurant boasting excellent food and an amazing hummus bar. In the meantime, Stabbed in the Baklava provides three authentic Mediterranean recipes to try at home! I chose this one for today’s column:

Angela’s Stuffed Grape Leaves with Meat and Rice (Derevee Dolma)

Ingredients

Ingredients for "Angela’s Stuffed Grape Leaves with Meat and Rice (Derevee Dolma)"

1 jar (12 oz) grape leaves

Meat and Rice Stuffing

1 lb. ground beef

½ cup long grain rice

1 chopped tomato

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 large chopped onion

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Cooking Liquids

Juice of ½ lemon

2 tablespoons tomato puree

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups hot water

Instructions

Rinse grape leaves. Line the bottom of a large saucepan with a few leaves, shiny side down. Then, on a cutting board, roll out each remaining grape leaf, shiny side down, and put a spoonful of the meat and rice stuffing in the center. Fold over both sides and roll from bottom up until it looks like a small sausage. Continue with each grape leaf. Place the stuffed grape leaves in rows on the bottom of the pot.

Prepare the cooking liquids by combining the lemon juice, tomato paste, salt, and water and pour over the stuffed grape leaves. Place a small inverted plate on top of the leaves to keep them in place during cooking. Cover the pot. Bring to boil, then simmer gently for an hour until rice is tender. Serve warm with cold garlic yogurt sauce (optional).

This dish certainly slaked my desire for delicious Mediterranean food! While I didn’t have any yogurt to hand, I did whip up a tasty sauce out of sour cream, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to complement the hot dolmas, making for an exceptional meal. It was admittedly a lot of food, however. I wound up cooking three batches of dolmas to use up all the grape leaves and stuffing, which took quite a bit of time but was totally worth it. It fed six people with plenty of leftovers. I suppose having more pans to cook the dolmas simultaneously would have helped with that problem. I do wonder how the addition of mint might have changed the flavor profile, as Angela Berberian mentions in the book itself, but this basic recipe is really terrific as is.

Next week, we travel south on our tour of the east coast to try out a cookie that’s really more of a chocolate bar. Do join me!

See alsoCooking the Books: Death on the Menu by Lucy Burdette

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