Hot off the Vine: Dolmades!

I’ve always wanted to prepare Greek dolmades – or dolmas from the VERY beginning. From scratch. So the following is my first experience! Living in the place I do has at least a couple dozen advantages, one of them being a BEAUTIFUL home made grape arbor you can sit under with coffee in the morning, or a cool drink later on. In mid to late September just reach up, pluck a cluster of seedless grapes and eat them in the shade of the leaves, watching the hummingbirds zoom through (heads up if you’re wearing red!). It feels magical and like a scene from a childhood story. Last fall I put up quarts of the most amazing , bright pink  grape juice – from the Reliance seedless grapes growing there.

“Reliance” seedless pink grapes – about 2 1/2 months from picking – and the vines are loaded!

with the sun and the moon and the grapes up above…

Dolmades have their origins in Greek and Turkish culinary traditions – the word means “stuffed little ones”. I love to make them (even if I buy grape leaves in a jar,) although I have this curiousity and maybe a pioneer gene that drives me to explore the right from scratch methods when I can.  It is very satisfying to watch the plate of dolmades grow, each shaped according to the size of the leaves. Some recipes call for steaming them after rolling, but these are sooo tender,  and the filling is fully cooked, so I eliminated that step. I did make a lovely marinade for them, read on…

First, you must find The Perfect Leaf –  young about 4 -5 inches diameter –  shown here are prime Thompson grape leaves for the picking. When you pick, make sure they haven’t been sprayed…

picking out the perfect leaves, young and tender

Gently wash, then place the leaves in a steamer ( I like the two tiered bamboo variety) –rinsed with water, then set in a wok ideally, with a few inches boiling water. If you like, toss in a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, oregano or thyme to the water, letting the leaves pick up a subtle herby flavor. Give the leaves plenty of time to steam. You can tell when you pick up a leaf, bite off the stem, and it is quite tender – maybe 10 – 12 minutes.

washed leaves are placed in the steamer

steam leaves until stems are tender

Let the leaves cool, and prepare the filling. Blend ingredients well. This amount will stuff approximately 20 leaves, with maybe a few bites left over for the cook.

  • 2 c. cooked brown basmati rice, warm
  • 2/3 c. shredded asiago or parmesan
  •  a good handful fresh spinach, wadded into a ball, sliced julienne (very thinly)
  •  1  1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  •  1 tbsp. minced fresh chives
  •  2 tbsp. chopped basil  —stirred together with
  •  a bit of (1/2 – 2/3 c.) organic sour cream and
  • some generous grinds of pepper

adding the filling to the center of the leaf, roll from the bottom up, tucking in the sides of the leaf as you complete the roll “just like a burrito”

Lay a grape leaf out flat on cutting board in front of you, stem side closest to you and sticking up. Place a teaspoon or two of filling lengthwise on the leaf horizontally, forming a “log.” Fold each vertical side over ends of the filling, then roll leaf over filling from bottom, stem side up. Continue until filling is gone. Or — roll from the bottom first, tucking the sides in as you go, whatever feels easiest!

the finished dolmades will be marinated in lemon juice and olive oil

I thought the fresh tang of lemon would be a nice contrast to a rich filling, so I splashed a little fruity olive oil in the flat serving dish, added the juice and zest of a lemon, and a few grinds of mixed peppercorns, then rolled and nestled the finished dolmades in.

in a flat dish with a fruity olive oil, lemon zest, juice, and plenty of pepper

mmmmm

Another great tasting filling recipe:  Artichoke Couscous Dolmades

  • 1 c. couscous
  • 2 c. water 1/2 c. finely chopped cooked artichoke hearts
  • 1/2 c. finely crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tbsp. sautéed garlic
  • chopped chives to taste
  • squeeze or two of lemon juice
  • 2 or 3 heaping tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. fresh minced oregano
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • crushed red chili peppers to taste
  • grape leaves
    Bring couscous and water to boil, uncovered. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water is absorbed and couscous is done, about 10 minutes. Cool. Add rest of ingredients to taste. Good chilled, but room temperature brings out best flavor.

A marinated red pepper, artichoke heart (from my 2011 garden preserved in herbed-up olive oil),  stuffed green olives, a little spinach and sweet baby mozzarella antipasta wanted to pose here with a bottle of local Colorado cherry wine and my first from scratch dolmades.  Happy cooking to you!

time for a picnic – fresh dolmades, marinated vegetables and baby mozzarella, and a bottle of local Colorado cherry wine

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