Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lemony Brown Rice Salad with Stone Fruit and Herbs

I am here to fulfill a couple of summer requests! For this Satiny Chocolate Sauce, for example, which is different from the healthy fake Magic Shell, and also different from my famous hot fudge, which you will see is not hyperlinked, because I have never posted the recipe! What? (Mental note.) For this Minted Cherry Tabouli. This One-Bean Salad. All are back. Yay! Thank you for the requests and please keep them coming. I also need to make my annual plug for this pasta, which continues to be so crazily good that I actually look forward to zucchini season, and for this cake, these popsicles, and, for that matter, this book, which, come August, I am so glad we own.

Okay. Moving forwards.

Ben and his friend Ava, 2015
And backwards.
Ben and his friend Ava, 2005

And right up to the present! 

This is the kind of late-summer clearing-house dish I love. Tangy, herby, crunchy, juicy, fruity, and a perfect vehicle for any harvesty overabundances that might be coming your way. 

It is also a terrific potluck take-along, as it gets big, enjoys popularity, and travels well. I confess that we got invited to a party last week, and I committed to making a salad with only what we had in (and behind) the house, which turned out to be quinoa, foraged beach plums, purslane from our yard, miscellaneous herbs, and a jar of pickled green beans. It was not bad! But this might be better.

Lemony Brown Rice Salad with Stone Fruit and Herbs
This is the late summer version of the springtime brown rice salad, and is similar to the Summery Whole-Grain Salad, but please don’t feel captive to the vagaries of my personal hell-hole of a refrigerator! Use whatever you have that’s lovely and fresh: different herbs, different fruit, barely steamed green beans, peas, sautéed squash cubes or onions, finely chopped kale, cherry tomatoes, anything good. Furthermore, if you don’t have or want to use the rice, use farro, barley, or quinoa. And finally, if you don’t have lemons, you can’t make lemonade! Or this dressing, so make Ben’s Perfect Vinaigrette instead, and start with about half of it to taste.

2 cups brown rice (I like short grain, even though they recommend long, because it’s sweet and nutty)
4 teaspoons kosher salt plus another teaspoon
3 tablespoons good olive oil
The grated zest of 1 lemon, plus its juice (around 2-3 tablespoons)
2 peaches or nectarines or plums, diced small (or 1 ½ cups pitted cherries, halved)
1 cup crumbled feta or diced fresh mozzarella
1 English cucumber (or 2 regular), seeded and diced small
2 scallions, slivered
2 stalks celery, with their leaves, sliced thin
½ cup chopped or slivered almonds, toasted or fried in a bit of olive oil until just browned
1 cup chopped herbs: I used basil and parsley, but mint and cilantro are great here too

Cook the rice: Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just tender (around 25 minutes). Drain the rice well, then put it back in the pot, put a dish towel over the top of the pot, and replace the pot’s cover. Let the rice steam and cool for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Add the rice and all the remaining ingredients, and stir to mix. Taste for salt and lemon, and add more if it needs it. You can also, if something seems at all off about the balance, try adding a little pinch of sugar.

Let the salad stand at room temperature for up to an hour (really try not to have to refrigerate it, or it will lose a great deal of its loveliness).

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Summer and Summer and Summer

Well, it was worth a try!
Forever, right? Because even though the apples are already dropping from the tree down the street la la la and even though it is already August la la la and Ben held up a crimson maple leaf and said, irate, "What the fuck? No. I mean seriously. What. The. Fuck?" I am just going to pretend that the summer will go on and on. If your kids are back at school already, please just ignore me. Likewise, if they are little still and/or a total pain in your harse-ole and you are counting the seconds until they are.

Birdy's Eebo camped in his own tent, which came inside the big tent when the nights were long and scary. (Note for longtime readers: Strawberry is alive and well! But he doesn't come camping because the raccoons once made off with Birdy's Pink Dolly. Not that she wouldn't be devastated to lose Eebo, of course! #awkward) 
But that's why, instead of offering you useful bagged-lunch ideas or homework helpers, I'm going to pretend that what you want, still and always, is advice about summer! Even though just this very day, I was wading through the Halloween displays at TJ Maxx while Michael, who is maybe in the most denial of all of us, looked for a beach towel, since his had gone missing. "Where are the effing beach towels?" he said, and I had to say, "Um, Honey? I think the store is kind of moving on." And he was pissed.

"I'm thinking we'll call it Neutral Skin and Hair. You dig?" "Yeah, yeah, totally. Should we keep thinking, though? I mean, you don't actually put it in your hair. Or, nah. Forget it. That's perfect."
So I'm here to recommend this sunscreen. Because we're still having fun in the sun, right? It is the best sunscreen we have ever used, at least since switching from lovely silky spray-ons to the gloppy, sticky, white mineral kind, and it's also the cheapest, at $12 for 8 ounces. Plus, it's called Neutral Skin and Hair, so you know they are not wasting a lot of money on, say, frivolous marketing. The Environmental Working Group ranks it pretty high, as do my complaining children, who have now used it for two (one and a half!) summers whilst complaining remarkably little. The fact that it is very oily bothers them less than the fact of the other kinds being very pasty. If you have acne, though, you will hear your pimples slurping long and happily before burping and thanking you.

I wouldn't say that painting those bowls was the best thing that ever happened to me. But only because then you'd think I was lame.
The other thing I want to recommend is these watercolors. I bought them for our summer adventures (and then I bought them again for Ava's birthday), and now I'm starting to think that I've never actually used good watercolors before, even though I thought I was buying this set mostly for its compactness. The hues are as vivid or washed as you want them to be, and the colors themselves are simply thrilling. I brought them camping, and kids and grown-ups alike spent many happy hours hunched over the pages of this wonderful coloring book. The whole series is great (we got this one too), and the pages are sturdy enough to handle the paints. I know grown-ups and coloring books are the hot couple of the month or whatever, but it's true that a coloring book seems to take away people's art-fear factor.

That's Billy Boiler, the camping kettle that Michael and I have been using now for. . . 25 years. Holy fuck.
I also painted the same still life three days in a row, and it was so much fun.

I can barely tell you about camping, about holding Birdy's hand on the way from the bathroom and trying to guess how many times we've walked that path together in the many years since her birth. We guessed 150, but it could be more or less. Her chubby toddler legs must be somewhere deep inside these new long ones, right? 
The view out back.
The view out top. 
The view inside.

Mostly while we're camping what we talk about is how much we love camping. That's how it's always been. I think that if you'd tried to describe to me the bittersweet flavor of growing kids, I wouldn't have been able to understand. It's like trying to explain color or something. The kids are so completely here, but already missing and half gone, and also leaving us. In the tent, I can watch their faces while they're sleeping without, like, being a total freak about it.

Speaking of "learning to let go," this book came in the mail, and I am so excited to read it. It's by the incomparable Jessica Lahey, and, as you know if you've followed her NYT Parent-Teacher Conference blog at all, it is going to be so, so good--challenging and good. There! Those yellow pencils on the cover. That's my one concession to fall.

Happy summer, my dear ones. xo

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tofu Jerky (and other camping food)

I know, I know. Tofu Jerky sounds like the vegetarian you dated once in college, the one who held you hostage in his apartment while he made you his famous nine-hour eggplant and molested your neck and shoulders with an unsolicited rubbing because you seemed tense. And you were! You were tense. Later, Tofu Jerky!

Instead, it’s this: Jerky. But made of tofu. By the kind of jerk who has nothing better to do than fiddle around with tiny slivers of crumbly, slowly dessicating soy curd. Be forewarned: This is a project! “Is it easy?” the kids asked, the first time we were devouring it on a road trip, and I loved the question—which is always code for “Will you make us this all the time?”—but no, it’s not really easy. Nor is it exactly hard. It’s just time-consuming and involved, with many trifling little steps.

But what it is is delicious, cheap, and a fantastic high-protein snack for camping and travel and school and road-trips and all those other times when you are starving, starving, starving, so you eat a handful of crackers and then feel like you’re uraveling into a carb-fueled, still-starving homicidal maniac. This is satisfying and chewy, salty-sweet and excellent, but just short of addictive, so you won’t eat the whole jar and then be carsick. Which is to say: it’s not as good as the beef jerky I used to make (sigh), but it’s much cheaper, and also I mostly don’t eat meat anymore. What? Oh, a story for another day. Suffice it to say: Ben eats enough meat for all of us, and this jerky is good enough to bother making.

I made a double batch last night (shown here) because we are leaving today for our camping trip! Yay, yay, yay! Which is why I have to run off and clown-car ten cubed acres of gear into a single Subaru wagon. I lie: Michael’s in charge of the surrealist math problem that is loading up the stuff. I’m in charge of the food, food, and more food. Speaking of: someone requested the one-pot camping couscous, which is now here, along with the pie-iron pizza and a food-packing list. The granola is here. The muesli, as well as the fish and squash packets, are here. The camp rice and beans is here. (There's a whole camping section in the recipe index too.) But I’ll still be in line at the clam shack. Say hi, okay?

Tofu Jerky
I started with a Mark Bittman recipe, but then ended up changing it over time, adding the initial soy-sauce brushing, e.g., as well as the vinegar and liquid smoke and garlic powder. You could pretty much baste it with whatever. In fact, it occurs to me that I have more or less recreated the flavor of bottled barbeque sauce, so maybe you should simply use that! If you do, will you please let us all know how it turns out? (Process photos below.)

1 (15-ounce) block extra-firm tofu
3 tablespoons soy sauce (divided use)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (or chipotle puree or smoked paprika)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Heat your oven to 225, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. While the oven is heating, I actually wrap the tofu in a clean dishtowel and stick the tea kettle on top of it, just to get some of the extra water out before starting. You can leave it like this from 5 minutes to an hour.

Slice the tofu into fiddly little slices. I do this by bisecting the block horizontally, and then cutting these halves into long, very skinny slices. They’ll be a little thicker than 1/8 inch, and they should be as even as you can make them, although they won’t be even, I can tell you that right now. You will eat a lot of raw, poorly cut slices as you go, and you will wonder why, until you put some soy sauce on them, and you’ll think: not bad!

In the end, you should have about 28 good slices, which you’ll squeeze onto the pan so that they’re touching. Brush them on one side with soy sauce and then turn them all over (a total pain!) and brush the other side, using 2 of the 3 tablespoons altogether. Put them in the oven for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together the remaining ingredients, including the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce. Take the baked tofu out of the oven and brush it all over with half the sauce, then return it to the oven for 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven and flip each fiddly, now-hot piece over, then put it back in the oven for 30 minutes. Baste it (you’re now basting the unbasted side) with the remaining sauce, and put it back in the oven until it’s done, 15-45 minutes. Seriously, that’s the range I’m giving you. Not only that, but you’ll also want to pluck out various slices as they’re done so that they don’t get over done! And you’ll know you’re only doing this because you did not cut them evenly in the first place.

How will you know when it’s done? It will go from opaque white to a kind of translucent, plasticky look. It will still be flexible—you don’t want it to get crisp—but it will look like it’s now made out of... I have to say it again: plastic. If you get sick of waiting, turning the oven off and leave them in the cooling oven for a while, and they’ll be done after that. (Nice, clear instruction, no?)

Cool the tofu on a rack, then store it in a bag or jar in the fridge or in a cooler, where it will get leathery and more jerk-like overnight. I don’t know how long it lasts, because we eat it all, but Mark Bittman says 1 week.
Why are you starting with something packed in water, when you want to end up with something dry? Good question.

Bisected! (Likes girls and boys.)
Cut into fiddly maddening slices. 
Soy-basted and baked.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Small-Batch Pickled Anything (specifically sugar snap peas)

So pretty!
We are in high summer mode around here. Which means, among other things, that we acquire more produce from our CSA than I really feel like wrestling into meals. Especially since I don’t make dinner any more! (Kidding! Sort of.)

By the next day, they've camouflaged themselves in an army-issue kind of a way. Not adding to the overall look, and not pictured here, is the shower cap covering the jar because I broke the glass lid.
So I’ve been pickling stuff. And there are two benefits to this: 1) We love pickles, and if there is a jar of pickled something in the fridge, everyone will dig in, whereas unprepped veggies can languish until you pull from the fridge a bag of brown slime that’s exhibit A in an exposé about the irony of the phrase “crisper drawer.” And 2) Pickling preserves your produce and sanity, which means it slows everything down so that you have enough time to eat something before it rots.

Summer haircut!
There’s a very simple formula, and with it you can pickle (nearly) all things: asparagus, radishes, sugar snap peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and even, yes, cucumbers (although I prefer a cuke method that uses a little fermentation). Are you ready for it? Pack clean veggies in a clean canning jar with whatever flavorings you like (fresh herbs, chiles, whole spices, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, shallots, ginger, strips of lemon or orange zest). Bring equal parts water and white vinegar to a boil, along with 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of vinegar. Pour the brine over the veggies. Cool. Refrigerate. Done. (Note: I am not talking about canning here. If you’re just making small batches, these will keep perfectly well in the fridge until they’re eaten.)

Summer ransom note. (I think the kids are making a movie.)
One thing: make more brine than you think you need! For a quart-sized jar, I bring to a boil 2 cups of water, 2 cups of white vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of salt. (Okay, 3 tablespoons of salt. Not to mess up the ratios, but because I often like to up the salt a little.) Yes, there’s some leftover, but I’d rather that than have to make a whole nother extra ¼ cup of brine to cover the last inch of vegetables. 
Summer sewing project.
But then again, I’m the person who will nearly abandon a sewing project if I run out of thread right near the end, because tying it off and starting a new piece just to stitch up that last inch makes me cry.

The official dilly bean recipe is here.
That’s it. 
If you are serious about pickling and preserving, then I trust you frequent the fabulous Food In Jars blog. I love her.
Now, that said, you might finesse the recipe on certain occasions. For example, for the sugar snaps, I cooled the brine before pouring it over the peas because I wanted the peas to stay sweet and snappy, and boy did they. These are among the best pickles I have ever made or eaten, or we’ve been slicing them into tuna salad, where they add the most incredible crunch and zing and sweetness.

The official dill pickle recipe is here.
On the opposite end of things, I like to put green beans or sliced carrots in a colander and pour a kettle full of boiling water over them before packing them in a jar and adding the hot brine, because I like them to be a bit more tender. But you can experiment and see what works best for the different veggies you’re pickling.

Summer herbs drying.
Seasoning is the fun part, and here are some of my favorite combinations:
  • Asparagus with tarragon and chopped shallots
  • Radishes with chopped ginger, a splash of soy sauce, and a little sugar
  • Sugar snap peas with garlic, mint, hot pepper, and a whisper of sugar
  • Green beans with garlic, hot pepper or black peppercorns, and dill or tarragon
  • Broccoli or cauliflower with garlic, chiles, lemon zest, and cumin and coriander seeds

Capers made from unopened milkweed buds! Because these are meant to be a condiment, I boiled together a cup of white vinegar (no water) with a tablespoon of kosher salt, and poured the hot brine over 1/2 cup of buds. I do sliced jalapenos that way too.
Also, you should note that many (most?) pickle recipes will call for white wine or cider vinegar. Please use whatever you like best! For me, it’s the clean, sweet flavor of white vinegar, even though I know it’s, like, a petroleum by-product or distilled from corn cobs or whatever.

Summer berries. Not pictured: summer spider bites; summer abstracted grumpiness; summer mildewy towels; summer not getting enough work done; summer house coated in damp greasy dust; summer eating too much Fritos.

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas
If you have fewer peas, just scale down accordingly! And skip the sugar if you like. I happen to like the way it emphasizes the sweetness of the peas.

Enough sugar snap peas to fill a 1-quart jar, ends snapped off and strings pulled off
1 dried red chile or a pinch of chile flakes (if you like)
3 or 4 small sprigs of fresh mint (or dill or tarragon)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups water

Pack the peas into the jar along with the chile, herbs, and garlic.
Heat together the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar just to dissolve the salt and sugar, then stir in the cold water.
Pour the brine over the peas and refrigerate.
Try to wait at least a day before eating, although they’re good right away.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Chipotle-Lime Black Bean Salad

Summer is my favorite. Yes, the weather can suck, and the chips are always already stale, and the mosquitoes are heinous, and my children still grimace and pout over sunscreen like they’re 3 and 0 instead of 7 and 4 or—oh, wait, no—15 and 12. But I don’t care, because you invited me to a potluck! And I’m so happy to be invited that I will set about making some huge bowl of something or other, and maybe even one other thing too, because I suddenly don’t mind cooking at all when it’s for a party, even vast vats of stuff, even though just a second ago I was pissing and moaning about needing to assemble a pair of cheese sandwiches for the lame dinner I’d been planning before you called. 

Go figure.

I can't resist sharing this summary of my personality photograph.
I’m linking to some old favorites newly uploaded here—this panzanella (make it with fresh mozzarella if you can) and this Napa Slaw with Gingery Vinagirette, which I actually just made again last night—and there are lots more potluck-party favorites in the recipe index: brown rice salad, for example, or the very popular Potato Salad with Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette, which this adaptable black bean salad is a version of. 

It's such a great salad: pretty and tangy, a little spicy and smoky, loaded with crunchy, tender, sweet, and salty things so that every mouthful is kind of thrilling. It's great as a side, but it's also good scooped up with chips like salsa. Oh, and you should get your 15-year-old to make the dressing for you, which will make your life much easier. 

Thank you, Ben! 
Chipotle-Lime Black Bean Salad
This salad is based on my Chipotle-Lime Potato Salad, which is based on a recipe in the lovely Fields of Greens cookbook. The amounts aren’t that important here: it’s the kind of salad that can easily be grown, if you sense that a large group is accruing—it keeps well, and there’s plenty of dressing to support another cup or two of corns, beans, or some other miscellaneous vegetable you feel like adding. Also, if you are pressed for time, feel free to skip the roasting of the peppers: they’re crunchier raw, but not as sweet, so it’s kind of a toss-up anyway. I like to add feta, but I was making this particular batch with a non-cheese-eater in mind.

2 red peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup raw green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups (more or less) of cooked black beans: either 2 cups dried beans, soaked, cooked, and drained and rinsed, or 3 cans, drained and rinsed
2 cups corn kernels, freshly cut from 2-3 ears or thawed frozen
1 cup diced carrots (skip this if you like)
½ cup finely diced red onion
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup crumbled feta (optional and not shown here)
Chipotle-Lime Vinagirette

Heat the broiler and cover a small baking sheet with foil. Lay the peppers cut-side-down on the foil and broil them close to the flame until they are entirely black, around 10 minutes or so. Wrap them loosely in the foil and leave them to cool while you deal with other stuff. Later, peel and rub the black skins off of the cooled peppers, then dice them.

Sauté the pumpkin seeds: Heat the oil in a tiny pan over medium heat. When it's hot enough to sizzle a seed, add all the seeds and fry, stirring, until popping and golden-brown, about three minutes. Turn off the heat but keep stirring for another minute so that they cool down without burning, then add the salt.

Put the beans, corn, carrots, onions, cilantro, and peppers in a large bowl. Pour in about half the vinaigrette, then stir gently with a rubber spatula and taste. Add more dressing and/or salt if the salad needs it. If you are not serving the salad right away, cover the bowl (transfer the salad to a smaller serving bowl, if you like), and leave it at room temperature for an hour or two, or, if you need to wait longer, refrigerate it. Taste and re-season just before serving, then top with the pumpkin seeds, feta (if you’re using it), and more cilantro.

Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup

2 tablespoons white wine or Champagne or sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from, say, 2 small but very juicy limes) (Note: It is atypical for me to use the juice from a lime but not its zest. I think the zest would be good here—but there’s so much else going on, flavorwise, that I’ve never included it.)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
* 2 teaspoons chipotle puree
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or put through a garlic press
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
½ cup light olive oil (I use half olive oil and half canola oil)

Whisk together everything but the oil, then slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify.

* To make the chipotle puree, scrape an entire 7-ounce tin of Chipotle in adobo (brands to look for include Embasa, San Marcos, Herdes, and La Costena) into the blender and puree it. Store it in your fridge in an impeccably clean glass jar where it will keep indefinitely—unless it doesn’t, which is what sometime happens. A thin layer of oil over the top seems to prevent mold from forming.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stuffed Fresh Foraged Grape Leaves

A problem you might have, if you're me, is that as people are barely just tasting whatever it is you've made, you're already saying, "Right? Is that not the best thing you ever ate?" and so when they go on to compliment you, you can never be sure of authenticity. That said, these are the best thing anyone ever ate, and I know because after asked, everyone agreed.
I am a little wild-grape obsessed, it is true. Come fall, I cannot go anywhere without sniffing the air. Do you smell that? The grapes? And then I have to wade into this or that tangle of vines and poison ivy to harvest the giant purple clusters or, more often, the small, shriveled and bug-infested clusters, which make everyone's lips itch raw, so I boil them up into the jam that we eat all year long. 

I love them so much. The dizzyling sweet smell, the color in the pot, even the tingle on my lips if I grab and eat a grape or two as I jog past them on the bike path.
Birdy, harvesting grape leaves. Secure a helper, and you'll fill your bag in no time.
But, while I have eyeballed them somewhat regularly, I have never used the leaves before this year. And that has all changed. Come June, you will never again find me not making dolmas with fresh wild grape leaves, because a) free food, and b) they are simply unbelievably fabulous and fun to make. It turns out that the dolmas taste? That you thought was, maybe, inherent in the can or in your Greek deli? That's the grape leaves themselves! Tangy and green-tasting and just the tiniest bit grapey, unless that was our imagination. And we looked at a million recipes to cobble together the perfect filling: arborio rice, toasted pine nuts, dried fruit, browned onions, dill, mint. A little savory and sweet and herby, a little tart and earthy. We are not snobs: We love the dolmas that come in a can, but these are better.
We made them once with sour cherries and once with golden raisins. I loved them both, but thought the sweetness of the raisins better balanced the finished dolmas, rather than the tart-on-tart of the cherries. Others disagreed. Your call.
We made them twice in three days, and will make them again and again, until the leaves get too tough to use, which will probably be the middle of July, depending on the heat and rain situation. 

Edited to add: this is more of a PROJECT than a recipe, which some readers found out the hard way. Sorry, Cathy!
So, if you live in the northeast or the midwest, now is the time. This is one of the best projects ever--and kind of weirdly not that fussy. (That can't be true, but that really is how it felt. Maybe because we always sit down to do stuffing-and-filling projects, like dumplings or these.) Birdy and I harvested the leaves in the woods behind our house, on the bike path near us, but we have seen them everywhere, including in lots of people's yards! 
Even just within walking distance from our house, we found and picked three completely different shaped grape leaves. I would say the middle shape is the most common around here.
There's great information here about how to identify and harvest them, and there's good information here about how to prepare them. If you aren't sure whether you'd looking at grape leaves or not, you can just wait until the fall, see if grapes grow there, and then make a mental note to look again next June. You want to pick leaves that are large enough the stuff and sturdy enough to not fall apart, but still tender-feeling so that they won't be tough and/or stringy. It's a little bit of trial and error! While you're picking, be sure to pick plenty of too-small, too-tough, too-large, or too-bug-bitten leaves, since you'll need those to line the pan.


Stuffed Fresh Foraged Grape Leaves
If you used jarred grape leaves, these would doubtless still be completely excellent and worth your while, even though you will never find a cheaper thrill than foraging. (Lots of process photos below.)

For the leaves:
20-24 perfect-ish grape leaves (These should be around 5 or 6 inches at their widest point, but smaller or larger is fine too!) plus 12-20 more imperfect ones for lining and sealing the baking dish
4 cups water
1 cup kosher salt

Trim the stems off the grape leaves and pick off any visible bugs. Bring the water and salt to a boil and boil the grape leaves, twelve at a time, just until they all change from green to khaki (5-20 seconds). Pull them out of the water with tongs, and plunge them into a sink filled with cold water and ice. When all the leaves are boiled and cooled, lay them on dish towels to dry off a bit, or gently wring them dry and spread them flat. They will (I think because of the salt?) feel sort of weirdly crisp at this point, and that's fine. I do not know why you blanch them in brine, but that's what some old Greek lady said to do, so that's what I do. I should try blanching them in plain water to see if there's a difference. Prepare the imperfect leaves the same way, but put them in a different spot so you can keep track of them.

For the filling:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped (around 1 ½ cups)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup pine nuts
1 cup arborio rice, rinsed
¼ cup dried sour cherries or golden raisins, finely chopped (or 1/4 cup currants)
½ cup water
¼ cup finely chopped fresh dill
1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint (or 1 teaspoon dried, added with the rice)
Black pepper

Heat the oil in a wide pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and salt and sauté until the onion is tender, translucent, and just starting to brown, around 7 or 8 minutes. Add the pine nuts and sauté for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the rice and sauté for another 5 minutes, until the rice looks a little translucent around the edges. Add the cherries and water and cook until the water is absorbed, 5-10 minutes (the rice will not be cooked through). Turn off the heat and stir in the herbs and pepper.

Heat the oven to 325 and grease a 7- by 12-inch (or similar-sized). Line the pan with a layer of prepared grape leaves (your worst ones), which will keep the dolmas from burning.

One at a time, lay a grape leaf on your work surface, dark side down and with the stem end facing you. Lay a heaping tablespoon of filling near the stem end. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling, then roll the leaf up tightly, tucking in the sides as you go (this is exactly the same as making a burrito and quite similar to swaddling a baby). Lay the filled leaf, seam-side down, in the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling, fitting the dolmas snugly in the pan. Stop when you run out of room in the pan, which should be around the time you run out of leaves and filling. (In truth, both times I had a little extra filling, which I cooked up with more water until the rice was tender, and which the kids ate like it was risotto and declared delicious.)

Pour over the dolmas a mixture of 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ cup lemon juice, and ¼ cup olive oil, then lay the remaining imperfect grape leaves over the top, tucking in the sides like the dolmas are going to bed. Cover the pan tightly with foil, put it in the heated oven, and bake for 1 hour, at which point most or all of the liquid should be absorbed. Even if it's not, this is probably a good time to check and see if they're done, which they probably are.

Leave the dolmas to rest under all their wrappings for half an hour or so, then serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with lemon slices, if you like.