Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Traveling was my introduction to mezedes, the astonishing number of appetizers served on small plates before the meal in restaurants in Greece. I usually chose to make them the meal. The selections were both raw and cooked; vegetables, meat, cheese, or fish. I’ve tried tzatziki, the cucumber, garlic and yogurt dip, chickpea hummus, eggplant dip, taramosalata made with fish roe, muhammara, the walnut and sweet pepper dip, fried liver tidbits, tiny lamb meatballs, bites of grilled octopus, miniature cheese or spinach triangles, marinated anchovies, and vine leaves stuffed with rice or meat to name just a few of the possibilities.
I never particularly liked stuffed grape leaves until I had them at my friend Toula’s parties. Her recipe is based on one published by Vefa Alexiadou, affectionately nicknamed the Greek Julia Child. Toula has made a few changes. She does not rinse the preserved vine leaves, preferring the briny taste, uses basmati rather than short-grained rice, and cooks the dolmades in chicken stock rather than water. This is her recipe.
1 lb preserved vine leaves, drained, stems trimmed.
- Orlando California Grape Leaves
- Krinos Imported Grape leaves in Vinegar Brine
2 cups spring onions, minced
2 cups dry onion, minced
1 lb basmati rice
1 cup parsley, chopped fine
1 cup dill, chopped fine
1 ½ cups olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup currants or golden raisins
1 tbl salt
1-2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup lemon juice
Chicken stock (commercial brand is fine here) or water
Mix the raw rice with the onions, parsley, dill, salt and pepper, 1 cup of olive oil, pine nuts and raisins.
Lay out the leaves one by one on a flat surface, shiny side down. Put about a tablespoon of the filling in the lower center of the leaf, fold the sides over, and roll it up into a compact bundle. If a leaf is too small you can overlap two together to make your package. Save any torn leaves. You can cook the dolmades right away or you can freeze them at this point. Store in airtight containers in the freezer.
If you are cooking them right away, line the bottom of a baking dish with the reserved torn leaves so they don’t stick to the pan. Pack them in tightly with seam side down, in more than one layer if necessary. Drizzle with the lemon juice, the remaining half cup of olive oil, and boiling chicken stock or water to just cover the rolled grape leaves. If cooking the dolmadas in the oven, press a piece of parchment paper directly on top of the leaves. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350° oven for 35-40 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Let the dolmades cool covered to preserve the color. They can also be cooked on top of the stove. Weight the rolled grape leaves down with a plate, cover and cook over a medium low flame until all liquid is absorbed. When off the flame, put some paper towels under lid to absorb moisture and let them cool thoroughly before taking them out of the pan. They are even better the next day.
If you are cooking frozen dolmades, there is no need to defrost them. Line the top and bottom of your baking dish with parchment paper. Bake as directed above, but increase the oven time to an hour or until all the chicken stock is absorbed and the stuffed grape leaves are plump and tender. They are excellent served with plain yogurt or tzatziki as a part of a large meze platter.