Vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs. A Greek specialty!
We love things that are wrapped. Presents, mummys (Come on! They are fascinating!) and especially, dolmades, a mixture of rice and herbs wrapped in vine or grape leaves. Greek dolmades are perfectly delightful treats often served as mezedes, but which can easily find their way onto a lunch or dinner plate.
When we were little, we remember sitting with our parents at the kitchen table, watching them with fascination as they so deftly used the vine leaves they had picked, to wrap up the delicious filling. They would encourage us to have a go and, regardless of how badly our inexperienced and clumsy little fingers wrapped the dolmades, we were told that they were perfect. When the dolmades came out of the pot, and several of our poorly wrapped ones had opened, causing their filling to spill out, our parents would take complete ownership of them. They would feign frustration and disappointment, and criticize themselves for not knowing how to wrap their dolmades as perfectly as we did. As we got older, we realized that they were simply encouraging our efforts, but as young kids we ate our dolmades with a big helping of pride.
In order to make dolmades you must have on hand vine or grape leaves. If you are lucky enough to find these fresh, go ahead and pick them. The leaves must be tender and soft; usually they are a pale green colour when they are. Leaves which are tough, thick and perhaps a darker green, are not the best for dolmades. If you cannot find fresh vine/grape leaves, you can usually find them sold in brine at Mediterranean or Middle eastern grocers.
If you are fortunate enough to find fresh leaves, pick as many as you can…more than you might need in the moment. Once they are cleaned and blanched you can wrap them tightly and freeze them as our parents do. In this way you will be able to enjoy dolmades any time of year.
To freeze vine / grape leaves:
Wash the leaves well in cool running water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the leaves for approximately 1 – 2 minutes, until they change colour and become an olive green or khaki colour. Remove from boiling water and plunge into cold water to stop them from cooking. When cooled, drain them. Arrange the leaves in portions of about 75 – 100, one on top of the other. Roll them into a cigar shape and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place in a freezer bag. When you are ready to use the vine / grape leaves, defrost them overnight in the refrigerator.
Select the pot that you will use to cook your dolmades in, and then find a heat-proof plate that is slightly smaller than the circumference of your pot. Once your pot is full of dolmades and you cover them with boiled water, you will have to use that plate to cover your dolmades (the plate will sit directly on them). You will then cover the pot with its proper lid. The plate will keep the dolmades snug and secure, and will prevent them from bouncing around as they cook, which will limit any breakage.
Wrapping dolmades takes a bit of practice. Within the recipe below you will find step by step instructions. It is important to note that they need to be wrapped tighter than lahanodolmades (Greek cabbage rolls). Well wrapped dolmades, once cooked, will be taut, allowing the vine leaves to securely and firmly hold in the rice filling. Remember that these are usually eaten by hand as mezedes. They are also often dipped into tzatziki (yum!) so… loosely packed dolmades run the risk of opening under all this action, and thereby spilling their contents everywhere.
Mia Kouppa: Dolmades
- 1/2 cup ( 1 1/2 ounces) finely chopped dill
- 1 cup ( 3 ounces) finely chopped mint
- 1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- 10 large spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cups (390 grams) long grain rice, rinsed
- 2 eggs (optional)
- 6 tablespoons (90 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) Greek olive oil
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- Prepare your vine leaves. Whether your vine leaves are fresh or brined, wash them well. Keep to the side any leaves which are severely torn.
- If you are using fresh vine leaves (as our parents do), bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add your vine leaves into the pot and boil them for about a minute or two. Your vine leaves are ready when they have changed colour from a vibrant fresh green to more of a khaki, or olive green (pictured above). Drain your vine leaves, and drop them immediately into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process, and to cool them. Once they have cooled, drain them in a large colander. They will likely be a jumbled up mess at this point. Take each vine leaf individually, open it up, and stack them, one on top of the other, onto a dish.
- Prepare your filling. In a large bowl combine the dill, mint, parsley, spring onions, yellow onion, rice, eggs, 6 tablespoons (90 ml) of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, pepper and the 1/2 cup (125 ml) of olive oil. Mix well until thoroughly combined.
- Now you are ready to wrap! Take your vine leaf and lay it on a plate in front of you, rib side up and with the stem end (you will have removed the stem) down toward you. Drop a teaspoonful of filling near the stem end. Begin wrapping as pictured above, first folding up, then folding in one side, and then the other. Continue this way until you have a tight, taut roll. After each one, examine it to ensure that you do not see any filling poking through. If you do, unwrap, and repeat.
- When your filling is all used up, if you still have vine leaves left over, you can freeze them for future use by rolling them tightly together and wrapping them in plastic wrap (see Helpful Hints above). Place them in a freezer bag and when you are ready to use them, defrost them overnight in the refrigerator.
- Take a pot which is large enough to hold your dolmades. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the bottom of the pot and line it with vine leaves (if you have any which are torn, this is a good place to use them).
- Place your dolmades in the pot, arranging them so that they are snug. You will layer them one on top of the other. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Boil enough water in a separate pot or kettle. As soon as the water has boiled, pour it into your pot with the dolmades. You will need enough boiling water so that the dolmades are completely, and just barely, covered.
- Take a heat-proof plate, which is slightly smaller than the circumference of your pot, and lay the plate on top of the dolmades. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. When the water has come to a boil, lower the heat to a medium low and cook for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Periodically check on your dolmades to ensure that they are still covered with water. If they are not, boil some more water in a kettle, and add to the pot to cover the dolmades.
- Check your dolmades for doneness by tasting them. They are ready when the rice is cooked.
- Remove from heat. In a small bowl mix together 1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1/2 tablespoon flour. Mix with about 1/2 cup (125 ml) water from the pot. Mix well until not lumpy, and pour this over the dolmades. Gently shake the pot so that the lemon mixture coats all the dolmades.
- Dolmades are best served at room temperature. Serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy.