Posts Tagged ‘dolmas’

Unexpected Dolmas, and Notes on Grape Leaves

image
The tiny dolmas that you see on the edge of the plate above were never meant to be a post; they were meant to be a sort of amuse-bouche incorporated onto the main plate. But they were so delicious that I ended up writing about them.
They are simplicity itself. For two servings, start with eight fresh grape leaves, chosen according to the notes below. You pull a splendid chunk of Mount Vikos feta out of its wrapper, or if you have a really good locally made feta, you drain a goodly chunk of it and cut slices about half an inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long, or smaller depending on the size of your grape leaves. You need eight slices. Center each slice on a grape leaf, put a large pinch of chopped dill or chopped fresh fennel on top, and roll up the dolmas. The fresh leaves are a bit stiff and you will have to coax them. Heat up a nonstick ceramic skillet, and when it’s good and hot put in about 3 tablespoons of good olive oil. After a few seconds for the oil to heat, put in the dolmas with the last fold downward, to hold it in place. Fry until browned but not blackened, flip, and brown the other side. Serve. Eat. Simple as that. I can’t help noticing that these would make a great Cook’s Treat, a meze for one, eaten standing while working on other aspects of a large meal.

Now, about catching your grape leaves. I don’t know why some are tender and tart and others are papery and  unchewable, but I do know that it’s imperative to taste a leaf from the plant before you try to use them in cooking. I have two wine grape vines, a Syrah and a merlot, that have delicious leaves even when they have been on the vine a while, and a Concord that has totally inedible leaves even when tried very young. But I have tasted wine grape leaves that were awful, so taste your own vine or the vine that you have (legal) access to. If the leaf chews up without much of a problem, you are good to go. If you are left chewing something that feels like a papery candy wrapper to the teeth, no skill on the cook’s part will overcome this and you are better off with commercial brined grape leaves.
image

These are the leaves of my Concord vine, and they look perfect for stuffing, but don’t try to eat them unless you want an impaction.
image
These are the leaves of my Syrah grape, and they look too deeply lobed to cook with, but they are tender and sorrel-sprightly to eat.

Mulberry Heaven II: Mulberry Leaf Dolmas

As I mentioned in my last mulberry post, I’m fond of eating very young mulberry leaves in cooked greens mixtures, and recently I was inspired by a post on TC Permaculture to think about mulberry leaf dolmas. I had located a mulberry tree with big and fairly tasty leaves, perfect for dolmas:
image
I asked my friend to stick his hand in the picture so that you can see that these leaves are big, over 7 inches long in many cases.
Be aware that if you are going to cook with mulberry leaves, they have to be young and you have to taste them first. Some are quite tasty, some are okay, and some are awful. Chew up a little bit. It will taste raw and green, but if there are acrid awful flavors, don’t go further. Use grape leaves instead in that case.
I foraged a couple of dozen big mulberry leaves, rinsed and blanched them for a minute in boiling water, and set out to make a meat filling. Mine was very improvisational, so I’ll describe it casually. For more specific and concrete recipes, you can google “dolmas” and find hundreds. I wanted to use what was fresh and good in my garden.
I started with a pound of ground beef from our local grassfed beef people. Don’t use beef that’s very lean; it will be dry when cooked. I chopped up three large green onions, greens and whites chopped separately, and four cloves of garlic. I put the white onion parts and the garlic to sauté over medium-low heat in a glug of good olive oil. While they cooked, I chopped a handful of parsley, a large sprig of cutting celery, a few large sprigs of thyme, a large handful of cilantro with stems, and a sprig of sweet marjoram, and mixed them with the chopped onion greens. To the beef I added a heaping teaspoon of salt and a heaping teaspoon of Maras pepper flakes. The Maras pepper was courtesy of a friend who kindly muled it back from Turkey for me, but you can use any mild red pepper flakes, or leave them out. Work the sautéed mixture and the chopped herbs into the beef very well with your hands. Now work in a cup of toasted pine nuts, chopped toasted almonds, or chopped toasted walnuts. Let the mixture rest in the refrigerator an hour or two if possible, or up to overnight, to let the flavors develop.
Fill the dolmas; again, there are a thousand visual tutorials online if you are unfamiliar with the process. Fit them tightly into a pan lined with parchment paper. In the photo below you can see some made with grape leaves among the vibrant dark green mulberry dolmas.
image
Put about a quarter cup of water in the pan, and cover loosely with foil. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Boil down the pan juices in a little saucepan to make a sauce, if it tastes at all watery right out of the oven, which it probably won’t because of all the herbs. Serve them forth, with well-strained or full-fat Greek yogurt. I like to salt the yogurt to taste. Ornament the yogurt with a drift of pepper flakes or a scattering of paprika if you like. Scatter crumbled feta over the dolmas if that suits your taste.
image
I don’t add rice to the filling because I’m a ketogenic eater, but if you aren’t, feel free to add rice for a more traditional filling, or you could add bread crumbs for a less dense filling.  If you want to take the trouble, you can make an avgolemono sauce or a tomato sauce to go over the dolmas. But do keep the field-and-garden improvisational nature of the thing.