Making warak arish is not unlike rolling a cigar.
You start with a grape leaf, shiny side down, and put a thin line of coarse-ground raw lamb and rice seasoned with salt, pepper, and allspice, close to the bottom. You roll the bottom part over this filling and then fold in the edges of the leaf over the sides. You roll this narrow tube up to the top of the leaf and fit it along other stuffed grape leaves in a pan.
Ordinarily, you put water and lemon juice in the pan and cook it until the lamb and rice are fully cooked. But if you are going to serve them later, you parboil it in salted water so you can bake them and add lemon juice later.
And that is what about 20 women in the Ladies' Benevolent Society of St. George Antiochian Christian Cathedral were doing in the cathedral basement last week: preparing tray after tray of warak arish, some 3,000 pieces of the Arab delicacy.
It will all be baked and served today at the cathedral's 66th annual Lebanese Dinner, which will be from noon-7 p.m. Three of the stuffed grape leaves (two for the children's platter) will be served along with baked kibbee (ground lamb, bulgur, and pine nuts), meat pies, green beans with rice and meat, Mediterranean salad, baklawa for dessert, and coffee, tea, or milk.
The annual dinner is the cathedral's biggest fund-raiser, and it takes months of preparation for the women of the Ladies' Benevolent Society. They meet periodically in the church basement to turn out pastries or meat pies or baklawa, and catch up on gossip while they work. Many of the women have been doing this for the church a long time -- four of the women making the warak arish are in their 90s -- and they even get help from people who are not in the church but who enjoy making the food.
"Our food is made with a lot of heart," said Dorothy Saba.
Although it is a good bet that warak arish has been a part of the menu for most of the event's 66 years, the cooks are not beyond using a new trick to make it better. In earlier years, they notice that the top layer of grape leaves would turn dark from the aluminum foil used to cover the trays while they cook. But now they have taken to putting a sheet of parchment paper between the leaves and the foil, and the whole tray stays green and fresh.
It was a tip Evelyn Zogaib said she picked up from watching Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, on the Food Network.
The cathedral is at 3754 Woodley Rd. Dinner is $15 for adults, $8 for children, and carry-out is available. Raw kibbee (for $7) and damie (for $2) will also be sold, along with an assortment of Lebanese pastries and cookies for $1.25 apiece.
Contact Daniel Neman at: email@example.com or 419-724-6155.