If you’re unfamiliar with the Blessing of the Grapes, it is a holy celebration of the Armenian Church, which takes place after the Divine Liturgy on the feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God. Since the celebration took place yesterday, August 14th, I feel free to offer you a refreshing side dish which includes this juicy-sweet fruit. (See recipe below.)
Growing up, we enjoyed grapes right from Nanny’s grape arbor, (along with the leaves that wrapped her delicious yalanchi), as bastegh (grape leather), or the commercially prepared Welch’s grape jelly and juice.
Today, grapes have become a sophisticated player in the culinary world and are, thankfully, mainstreamed into recipes from appetizers to desserts.
1 cup pistachios, shelled, *skins removed, and *toasted
1 lb. orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups red and/or green grapes, whole, or sliced in half, if large
1 cup basil, sliced into ribbons
NOTE: The following procedure of removing skins from pistachios is a bit tedious. If you choose to skip these steps, use pistachios as they are, but you might want to rub off some of the excess salt, or use **toasted pine nuts instead. Chopped walnuts or pecans can be substituted for the pistachios as well - and it's a lot easier!
3. Prepare orzo according to package instructions. Drain; set aside.
4. While orzo is cooking, prepare the dressing. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Pour most of the dressing over the cooked orzo, reserving the rest to add to the salad just before serving; stir to coat. At this point, cover and refrigerate the orzo for several hours or overnight. Refrigerate the reserved dressing, too.
6. Just before serving, toss in the grapes, pistachios (or pine nuts, walnuts or pecans), and basil. Add reserved dressing and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
**How to Toast Pine Nuts:
Place the pine nuts in a dry, non-stick pan. (Do not use oil.)
Turn the heat to medium.
Shake the pan every 30 seconds, tossing the pine nuts.
When they are lightly golden brown, remove from heat. Cool.