Not only is this one of my favorite appetizers but it’s also one of my go-to “I’m beat” dinners. I always have plenty left over for lunches the next day and if I’m just so dead-dog tired I can’t muster up the energy to include the meat or shrimp mixture, well, hey! It’s okay. These egg rolls taste terrific with or without a little protein so if you’re doing a no-meat Monday or you are a vegetarian then these egg rolls are for you. In fact, they taste just like the ones you get at a Chinese restaurant. My boys love them and the following day they have an even deeper flavor after being crisped up in the oven for 10 minutes then swirled in a puddle of duck sauce and Chinese hot mustard and washed down with a couple of cold beers. This recipe can be assembled the day prior to serving which makes for easy party prep. Simply roll them all up, cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to cook. And since they fry up in minutes you’re not chained to the kitchen yet you still have one more hot appetizer to serve your guests. These are so dang good, kind of a sleeper and they’re not often served at home so check this out. You may just have a new obsession.
After a weekend of pizza, steaks, casseroles heavy with cheese and dinners out, Meatless Monday sure does creep up fast. The entire family, that would be the three of us!, worked at the Greek festival all weekend so when the week started, needless to say, the cupboards were bare. And after grabbing a bite here and there of pita and hummus, flaming Greek cheese and sausage, baklava, feta fries and tender bits of lamb, a clean but healthful dinner was desperately needed. When I say “clean” I mean little or no dairy, no heavy sauces and no frying. Clean eating doesn’t sentence one to a lifetime of salads. On the contrary, the Greek diet is mostly plant-based but the beauty is the brilliant twist the Greeks give their vegetables. A stick of cinnamon thrown in here, a squeeze of fresh lemon there, elevate the humble dishes to celebrity status. Smoky, roasted eggplant can be fused with walnuts, garlic and lemon juice yielding a creamy dip that will knock your socks off. What I love about this dish of stewed, roasted vegetable is you don’t need to really follow the recipe. There is a long, and I mean loooong, list of ingredients that work together magnificently and still offer a rib-sticking meal. Most of the vegetables are interchangeable so feel free to throw in a bag of green beans if you’re out of zucchini. Canned whole tomatoes are fine if you have no fresh ones. When I prepared this dish this week I had forgotten fresh mint, dill and flat leaf parsley at the grocery store. We’re in high season here in South Florida. Every tourist and his brother is out joy ridin’ and if you think I was going out in that snarl of 5:00 traffic you’ve got another thing coming. And I LOVE fresh mint in my Tourlou. I had on hand, though, dried dill and a big ol’ bush of oregano. This is also the ideal dish for out of season vegetables such as tomatoes. Roasting them brings out flavors the tomatoes didn’t even know they had.
If you want to be creative this is the recipe for you. My recipe is just a guideline and what works for me. Mushrooms, peas…I guess the point I’m trying to make is roast whichever vegetables you enjoy. My vegetable stew came out positively gorgeous, I mean, just look at the photos! It was warm and satisfying, so good in fact, I didn’t even want the usual topping of crumbled Greek feta cheese. I served the dish with a chunk of crusty French bread, absolutely necessary to sop up the exquisite bend of juices from the onions, garlic, tomatoes and olive oil. And although it may be juvenile and straight out of the nursery, I’m 100% guilty of using my fork to crush a few random pieces of potato to then mix in the fragrant olive oil and juices. Oh, yes! Heaven on a plate.
3/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 large head garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large bell pepper, halved and cut into strips
1 large eggplant, cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut into 1/2″ rounds
4 carrots, cut into 1/4″ rounds
3 pounds tomatoes, each tomato cut into eighths
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup fresh mint, leaves chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped or 1 heaping tablespoon dried
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon each salt and pepper
Greek feta cheese, crumbled, optional
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
Cover an extra-large roasting pan or casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray making certain to cover all of the bottom and sides of the pan.
If your roasting vessel is glass or not stove-top safe, use a pan for this next step. If your roasting pan is metal and stove top safe the entire dish maybe prepared in the roasting pan. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in the roasting pan or skillet.
Add the onion slices cook until soft, stirring often.
Add the garlic and continue stirring. Take care that the garlic doesn’t burn. If using a pan transfer this mixture to the sprayed roasting dish. If onion mixture cooked in the roasting pan, turn off heat but leave stove top.
Add all remaining ingredients except feta cheese, stirring between additions. Make certain all ingredients are evenly coated with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and any pan juices.
Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for one hour.
Carefully remove tin foil, stir vegetables and continue to bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes.
If using feta cheese scatter one or two tablespoons over each plate.
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
Heat a large pan to medium and add olive oil.
After olive oil heats up add onions and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add dill, mint, parsley and lemon zest.
Stir well and add rice stirring so all the grains of rice are coated with the olive oil.
Set aside until rice is cool enough to handle.
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.
Cut stems off leaves at the base and reserve any torn leaves. You’ll use them later.
Using a big pot line the bottom of the pot with half of all the reserved stems and half of the torn grape leaves.
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.
Fold the bottom of the leaf up, pressing the rice mixture down.
Fold the left and the right sides towards the middle.
Roll the leaf up, all the way to the top.
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.
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.
Pour the juice of the lemons into the pot along with a good drizzle of olive oil.
Gently pour water into the pot just up to the top of grape leaves.
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.
Taste a grape leaf and if done remove from heat. If not, continue cooking until rice is tender to your taste.
Chill overnight in refrigerator. Serve with freshly cut lemon.