Almost everyone the world over loves wrapping food in food. A sandwich is basically a wrap, the filling snuggled between a soft bread exterior. We stuff our donairs and falafel into pita, we wrap fresh veggies in rice paper and mung bean wrappers, we wrap food in tortillas made of corn and flour, and resourceful cooks everywhere have made an entire branch of regional cuisine out of wrapping foods in locally available vegetable leaves; lettuce wraps, cabbage rolls, tamales wrapped in corn husks, Chinese sticky rice in lotus leaves, stuffed collard greens, Swiss chard ….the list goes on and on. And one of our favourite wraps, hailing from the middle east, the Balkans and Greece, is dolmadakia, stuffed grape leaves.
Traditionally, dolmadakia, ( aka dolmas or dolmades) are made by stuffing grape leaves with rice and vegetables like onions, garlic, maybe a little chopped red pepper, pine-nuts or chopped nuts, currants and herbs like parsley and dill, and often ground meat like beef, veal or lamb. The ingredients are mixed together in a bowl, the leaves are laid out flat and then stuffed with a tablespoon or two of the filling. These get rolled up (for a demo click here) and placed together snug as sardines in a baking dish, then a little water is added and the dish is covered and steam-baked for anywhere from an hour to ninety minutes.
Dolmades are great as a main course; a serving of half a dozen or so served with lemon and tzatziki, maybe a Greek salad and hummus with pita makes a fantastic meal. And if you choose to go meatless, vegan or vegetarian dolmades are certainly just as delicious as the meaty versions, maybe even more so depending on one’s predilections. Meat dolmas are awesome to be sure, but the meat kind of takes over the flavor profile. Vegetarian dolmas are lighter and even borderline dainty, certainly devoid of animal fat, and lend themselves to a greater variety of flavor, ranging from the delicate to the robust. We all know that cutting down on meat is a good thing for our bodies and it’s always great when you find a dish that makes doing this your first choice, not a sacrifice. When making dolmas, take it easy on the liquid; basically you only want enough to steam the rice and other ingredients, you don’t want them drowning in liquid or the end result will be soggy and mushy. Note: the eggs in the following recipe are chiefly used as a binder; if you like you can make these vegan by substituting 4 tablespoons of ground flax mixed in 1/3 cup of water in lieu of eggs.
Makes 30 dolmas
30 grape leaves, rinsed
2 cups brown rice
3 cups chopped roasted red pepper
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 onion, chopped
1/2 bunch dill, chopped
½ bunch parsley, chopped
2 small carrots, grated
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup currants
½ cup pine nuts or chopped Brazil nuts
juice and zest of one lemon (hint: zest it before juicing!)
I teaspoon each salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove prepared grape leaves from the jar and rinse in cold water. They are somewhat delicate so handle with care. Set aside. In a large bowl mix all the other ingredients. Line a baking dish that has a cover with grape leaves, maybe ones that are ripped or of an undesirable size. Lay out grape leaves as workspace permits stem side up and place a tablespoon or so (depending on size of leaf) of filling at the base of the leaf. Trim the stem with scissors if it is too long. Roll the leaf from the base to the leaf tip; about halfway up fold in the edges and then keep rolling until you have a little cigar. Do not wrap too tightly or the dolma may split as the rice expands as they cook. Place each dolma in the baking dish snugly against each other. When finished, cover with a layer of grape leaves and pour 2 cups of water over it all. Cover with dish lid and place in oven for ninety minutes. Check water level at halfway point and add a little more if things appear too dry. When finished, remove from oven and serve hot or warm with tzatziki and fresh lemon slices and pita.They are also delicious served room temperature or chilled.