Holy Grail music, optional…
Oh! She’s making those Greek things… the rice things! So exotic… what are they wrapped in, green phyllo? How do they create all the little veins? I can’t wait to have some with my Oy0kos yogurt! Can you also make Spanakopara? I love Spanakopora! I mean what better way to usher in summer than with a fresh plate of dolm… dolmak…dolmadres!
Whaaaa? You better back that thing up, right now. PLZ.
Say it for me slowly: DOLE- MAH- thehs. Or, just dolmadakia. But I’m not that ambitious so you might have to figure out how to say that yourself. :)
Ok, so I know I promised this like, three weeks ago, but I’ve been procrastinating.
Why? Well, sometimes life is crazy. And sometimes I’m just too distracted. Hey, you ever wonder when socks were invented?
On a more serious note, today we’re exploring a dish with a complex history that no one country can really lay claim to having invented, though I’m sure this is up for debate among those with stronger national affiliations than I. And unlike most “old-skool” foods, it happens to be both vegan and gluten free without any modifications. Bring it to a Mediterranean themed party and your friends will love you!
A word of caution: don’t tell Yia Yia you are vegan, she might try to medicate you, or excorcise the demones with garlic cloves and pennies.
Now, as with many traditional foods, preparing dolmadakia isn’t for the faint-hearted or in-a-hurry. Actually it takes all day. But I guarantee you that once you’ve made these yourself, you will have a hard time eating them out of a can without gagging. (Zing! Sorry Krinos and Zanae. You know I love you, but I can’t be with you like this anymore…)
ANYWAY. The first item we need to secure are the grape leaves. In fact, today I’m feeling so magnanimous that I am not only going to show the way to stuffed grape leaves, but I am also going to show you how to choose and prepare the leaves yourself. Double Rainbow!
Can you feel the power?
BUT… BUT… KM… HOW DO WE CHOOSE THEM?! I MEAN… what… do we just go up to the vine and TAKE THEM?
Yes, with a few caveats.
I’m sure if you ASK the vine owner if he will allow you to pluck a few leaves off his vine, the viniculture gods won’t punish you. Trouble is, fresh grape leaves are extremely hard to find if you don’t live near a vinyard or Astoria, where there’s a grape vine or three on every block due to
smuggling saplings on a transatlantic flight in shoes the very enterprising work of several Greek/Italian immigrants all those decades ago. (To be fair, all 2 of you reading probably live within blocks of me, so you might not have much trouble at all.)
Before you attempt to use the anti-elitist rant from my first post against me, hear me out. The flavor and texture freshly plucked grape leaves makes a big difference in this recipe. Fresh, individually selected leaves are not in the least bit comparable to something that has, for the last several months, been slowly decom- pardon, brining in a glass jarcophagus deep in the bowels of Publix. And so, if I can avoid using preserved leaves, I do.
But, dear reader, fear not, for I am a reasonable snob. Preserved grape leaves can be purchased here, and here.
[Reader beware- I can't vouch for how "clean" these products are as far as chemicals are concerned]
If you are feeling very ambitious, you can also learn how to preserve them yourself, here.
Anyway, don’t worry too much about this. I may be posturing somewhat, but your jarred grape leaves will turn out just fine, I promise. Almost no one you know has ever eaten these fresh to begin with, so they won’t even know the difference. All better? Good.
Ingredients and Procedure
- 2 Cups of long grain white rice
- 50-75 grape leaves
- 1 Cup of Parsley (or just, equal parts with Dill)
- 1 Cup of Dill (or just, equal parts with Parsley)
- 1/2 cup Mint
- 1/2 cup of Olive Oil
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 1 very large yellow onion
- A handful or two of chopped scallion, to taste.
- 4-5 Lemons
- An entire day. Yes, I am serious.
Picking the Leaves
So, you probably want to pluck the leaves in late spring, let’s say May-June. This is when there are still new leaves on the vine. Here’s what you are looking for:
- Unblemished and untorn leaves, 6″-7″ in diameter, with small-medium veins. Don’t worry if they are a bit smaller or larger than this, but if they are too much larger they might be stringy. Alternately, if they are too small they will disintegrate in the pot. Don’t go measuring leaves on me, now. Just look at what’s “mid-size” on your individual vine and go from there.
- Medium thickness- about the thickness of a few sheets of paper.
- The surface should be with supple and “waxy”. Avoid using leaves that are already really “hairy”.
- Avoid mildewed or misshapen leaves.
- Avoid any leaves that contain bird feces. Stop gagging! Just keeping it real. Do you think jarred grape leaves come from a mythical realm devoid of wildlife? No, Waldbaums doesn’t count. Go back to your self-imposed exile from the harsh winds (or falling projectiles) of avian waste, my friend.
- Smiles everyone! Make sure you also grab 15-20 leaves that are less than “perfect”. These will be used to line the bottom of the pot and between layers.
Capiche? Don’t worry, I have pictures.
Approach the Vine. This one is in front of my parent’s house.
Remove the leaves by pinching them at the base and “peeling” off the branch.
Medium leaves with medium veins work best.
While on your grape leaf sojurn, store the leaves in a bowl covered with a wet cloth.
Preparing the Leaves
Grape leaves are kinda dirty and have stems. They’re also bitter and stringy. But dolmadakia don’t have pointy stringy sticks on them that impale your soft palette as you try to chew. And they aren’t bitter. They also don’t have insects, holes, or a central nervous system. This means you need to prep the leaves before using them. While Mrs. Vlachopoulos may scream at you while you selectively defoliate her yard, at least the leaves won’t scream while you do this to them (No CNS, remember?)
Rinse the leaves well with cold water to start.
Wash and examine the leaves one by one, checking for insects, bird feces, or other anomalies. Separate the good ones from the bad. Use soap if you feel paranoid.
This is a good leaf: medium sized, thin-medium texture, medium veins.
This is a bad leaf. But, you can use it to cushion the pot.
Oversized, Stringy leaves cans also be used as pot filler.
This part is up for debate. Some people remove the stems before they boil the leaves to remove the bitterness. Others remove the stems first and then boil the leaves to remove the bitterness. I’ve done this both ways with no significant differences. So, I’m just going to tell you that you need to leave the stems on, because it happens that I only have photos of the stems-on process. See how I gave you a behind- the-scenes there? I’m so cool. FYI- if you don’t want to pick your leaves and make your dolmades on the same day, you can keep these in a bowl of cool water, covered, in the refrigerator for a day or two and nothing will happen to them.
Place the leaves in a pot of water, and place a weight on top. A glass bowl will do. Bring to a boil, and immediately shut off the heat.
Allow to sit for about 10-15 minutes. By now the water will begin to cool. When the pot is safe to handle, drain the water and replace with cool, fresh water. Drain Again.
Making the Filling
Coarsly chop up a large onion. This isn’t chopped already, FYI, so use your judgement.
Use equal parts parsley and dill, and about half part of mint. Tear the herbs into chunks for easier chopping.
If needed, bruise the mint before adding to the food processor or pulse it by itself before adding the other herbs. Mint leaves are larger and need more pulsing, which might liquefy the parsley and dill if you put them in all at once. We don’t want this.
Pulse onions, scallions and herbs together until just combined. The mix should be on the slightly chunkier side of the spectrum between salsa and pesto.
Mix the herb/onion into 2 cups of long grain white rice. Add the olive oil and stir until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste.
Rolling the Dolmades
The amount of filling varies based on the size of the leaf. Typically we are looking at 1-1.5 teaspoons. Remember, rice expands, so don’t over fill!
Flip one side over
Flip the other side over
Flip over again
And finish your roll!
Cooking the Dolmades
Line the bottom of the pot generously with extra grape leaves. Pack the dolmades as tightly in the pot as you can, so that when the rice expands they don’t explode. (Seriously, they explode sometimes)
When one layer is done, cover it with grape leaves, and begin another. Stack the layers on top of eachother. Repeat until done.
Place a plate over the top and weigh the plate down. Fill the pot with until the water JUST covers the leaves.
Squeeze 2-3 lemons into the water, for extra flavor
At this point, you are going to bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the dolmades at very low flame until the rice is cooked. This can take an hour, it can take an hour and a half, it can take two hours. I can’t stress this enough- you need to check.
May Lerios actually has a much more detailed cooking process here. She uses a crockpot, instead of a conventional one. According to her suggestion, your best bet is to simmer them for 45 minutes, taste one, and continue cooking as needed. This is what I did.
Once they are done, let them cool for a bit and pour out the water while holding the plate down, to keep them from falling out of the pot . Arrange on a platter and allow to further cool. Squeeze a lemon or two over the top and and serve.
YUM! See you next time! Keep an eye out on my tumblr, and see if you can guess the next recipe!
PS- While I can’t claim to own the Greek language, It’s pronounced EE-Kose, not OY-KOSE. Every time I hear those dreadful ads I cringe and part of my broca’s area disintegrates. Can someone please give the brand managers over at Dannon a clue, please!