I remember years ago when we lived aboard our Panda 38 I would occasionally make elaborate five-course Greek dinners… a little Ouzo with olives, feta and tomatoes…moving on to appetizers of Spanakopita, Dolmades and sometimes pickled octopus salad…all washed down with Retsina. Then on to Avgolemono Soup and a main course of Skewered Lamb, Moussaka or Pastitsio; finishing up with Greek coffee and Baklava. All from my little teak galley. I guess I was younger then.
So today I’ll walk you through the steps of just one of those Greek treats, stuffed grape leaves. I made these for a day cruise on the elegant (powerboat… shh…) Indian Summer.
1 jar of grape vine leaves
1 cup Basmati or regular white rice
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
A dash of ground cloves
1/4 cup currants
Approximately 2 cups water, total
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Salt & pepper
Dolmades can be stuffed with any number of things, predominantly being rice and other seasonings, and eaten as a appetizer. But you can make Dolmades as a hearty main course as well by adding ground beef or lamb. Today’s recipe is a simple meat-free first course.
Soak the rice in warm water with two teaspoons salt, just enough to cover, while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This gets the rice to start soaking.
Remove the grape leaves from the jar and place them in a large bowl. Add water and swish them around a bit, rinsing off some of the salty brine. Set them aside in their bowl of water.
Next, finely chop the onion.
Then chop the herbs.
Sauté the onions and pine nuts in the olive oil in a large pan, until onions are tender.
Then add the herbs, cinnamon and ground cloves and continue to sauté for another minute or so until aromatic. This is going to start smelling really good now.
Next add the rice along with the water it is soaking in, and the currants. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the water is absorbed. The rice will not be cooked through. It will continue cooking when placed in the rolls and steamed. Salt and pepper to taste. Then remove from the heat and let cool down a bit while you work your grape leaves.
Now prepare for cooking the Dolmades. Rub olive oil onto a large skillet which has a lid. (my lid and skillet don’t match. I use my crab pot lid for these purposes) Carefully pull apart the leaves. Use the torn-and-too-small-too-tough leaves to line your skillet and reserve the “good” leaves for the Dolmades. Add lemon slices to the skillet. And here’s the Catch-22. The smaller the leaves the more tender, making better, more delicate Dolmades. But the larger leaves are much easier to stuff and roll. Place the leaves, shiny side down, on a cutting board or work surface. Place a spoonful of the rice mixture on one side of the leaf, as shown below.
Then carefully fold the edges of the leaves in and roll.
Until you have this…
Place each roll in your leaf-lined skillet until the skillet is full. This takes some time and patience. A glass of Retsina or two usually helps under these circumstances. And heck, throw on some Greek music as well.
Once all your Dolmades are made, pour 1 1/2 cups water into the pan.
Place the lid on the pan and let simmer for 45 minutes. You don’t want them to dry out or you will have a burned leaf mess. Add water if necessary to keep them steaming.
Remove from the heat and let them cool.
Dolmades are typically eaten at room temperature, which makes them a great appetizer to share any time, any where.