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Dolmades, Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves…Food of the Gods

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Spring lasted all of 15 minutes here in SoFlo and as I prepared dolmades, or Greek stuffed grape leaves, it occurred to me what a perfect summer food it is.  As the temperatures steadily climb dolmadakia are the ideal snack or side; not too heavy and chilled, tailor-made for the steamy days ahead.  They can be enjoyed warm but we prefer them cool or even cold.  It’s best to make the dolmades the day before serving thus giving them plenty of time overnight in the refrigerator.  Stuffed grape leaves are incredibly simple to make; don’t listen those pessimists who make such a big fuss and complain about how back-breaking they are.  They DO, however, take time.  A considerable amount of time at that.  3/4 of the time spent making them is in the stuffing or rolling.  I find if you set up an assembly line at your dining room table where you can sit the time flies by and you’re not on your feet inviting a back ache.  The most difficult part of making the stuffed grape leaves is deciding meat or no meat.  In our house we have a saying, “ANYONE can make good dolmades with meat!”.  Without the addition of meat you need to pay attention to the herbs and seasonings.  You really can’t add too much but add too little…and you’ve just spent a couple of hours making a big pot of bland rice with grape leaves in it.  Not fun.  So make sure you really crank on the onion, dill, mint and lemon and you will have a pot filled with dark green, glossy little jewels!  They don’t freeze well but they last a good five to six days in your refrigerator.

Dolmades, Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves

yield: approximately 60

  • 1-1 lb. jar grape leaves in brine
  • 2-14 ounce bags arborio or any short grain rice
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill, finely chopped, stalks set aside
  • 1 large bunch fresh mint, finely chopped, stalks set aside
  • 1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped, stalks set aside
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon zest, finely minced
  • juice of the zested lemons
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

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  1. Heat a large pan to medium and add olive oil.
  2. After olive oil heats up add onions and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add dill, mint, parsley and lemon zest.
  4. Stir well and add rice stirring so all the grains of rice are coated with the olive oil.
  5. Set aside until rice is cool enough to handle.
  6. Carefully take grape leaves out of jar, rinse well under tap water taking care not to tear leaves.  Set in colander for excess water to drain off.
  7. Cut stems off leaves at the base and reserve any torn leaves.  You’ll use them later.
  8. Using a big pot line the bottom of the pot with half of all the reserved stems and half of the torn grape leaves.
  9. Place a grape leaf, vein side up, on your work surface, I use a dinner plate, smooth out and place one teaspoon of the rice mixture in the center of the bottom.
  10. Fold the bottom of the leaf up, pressing the rice mixture down.
  11. Fold the left and the right sides towards the middle.
  12. Roll the leaf up, all the way to the top.
  13. Place the stuffed grape leaf in the pot on top of the torn leaves and continue to roll, placing the dolmades in the pot in a concentric circle, fitting the smaller ones into any gaps.
  14. When you have no more perfect leaves place the other half of the torn ones on top of the dolmades and the other half of the stems on top of that.
  15. Pour the juice of the lemons into the pot along with a good drizzle of olive oil.
  16. Gently pour water into the pot just up to the top of grape leaves.
  17. Place a sturdy luncheon plate inverted on top of the pot to weight down the dolmadakia, cover, bring up to a boil and immediately drop down to a gentle simmer for one hour.
  18. Taste a grape leaf and if done remove from heat.  If not, continue cooking  until rice is tender to your taste.
  19. Chill overnight in refrigerator.  Serve with freshly cut lemon.

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