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Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
(recipe, Caroline Cummins)
Cooked grape leaves stuffed with rice, meat, and vegetables are a popular appetizer throughout the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, and the Middle East. You can blanch your own fresh grape leaves, but it's faster and easier to use the brined, bottled variety. As for fillings, this happens to be my favorite combo, but you can add currants or raisins, crumbled feta, chopped walnuts instead of the pine nuts . . . you get the idea. This recipe was adapted from recipes in Saveur and Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 1 small celery rib, minced
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ cup white basmati rice
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested, the zest minced
- 1 small handful each of fresh mint, parsley, and dill, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 jar brined grape leaves (about 3 dozen grape leaves), drained
- Tzatziki for serving (optional)
- Make the filling: Put 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a 12-inch skillet or large saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Add the onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rice, and pine nuts, and cook, again stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, about a minute. Add the stock and bring to a low simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice has absorbed the liquid, about 15 minutes. Stir in the minced lemon zest, herbs, and salt and pepper, and let cool slightly. (You can prepare the filling ahead of time and wrap the dolmades later; chill the filling if it will sit for a while.)
- Assemble the dolmades: Swirl 3 Tbsp. olive oil and 3 Tbsp. water around the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Carefully pull the grape leaves from their jar; they should slide out in one large roll. Put the leaves on a plate and let them unroll slightly. Layer two of the grape leaves across the bottom of the saucepan.
- Put one grape leaf on a work surface, vein side up (the stem should be pointing up in the air). Place 1 Tbsp. of the filling in the middle of the leaf, just above the stem. Fold over the five points of the leaf in sections, starting with the bottom two sections, then the middle two; roll the bundle you have now formed up the length of the fifth and last section. Place the bundle, seam side down, in the saucepan. Repeat, fitting each wrapped bundle fairly snugly with the others, across the bottom of the saucepan. When you have covered the bottom of the pan, simply start a second layer of bundles atop the bottom layer.
- Cook the dolmades: Add the lemon juice and ¾ cup water to the saucepan. Cover the pan and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Serve the dolmades: Using tongs, carefully remove the dolmades from the saucepan. Arrange on a platter, drizzle with more olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt, and serve warm or cold, with the tzatziki on the side if you wish.