from one generation to the next
I consider myself a dab hand at making dolmades. I cannot claim any advantage based on ethnicity, but I do have lots and lots of experience. I have always cooked a delicious rice filling spiked with currants and pine nuts, fragrant with dried mint and dill. The rolled vine leaf parcels are then steamed over a very low heat until tender.
Last weeks post for disappointing meat filled dolmades sparked a flurry of comments extolling the virtues of fresh vine leaves over the preserved variety. Having only ever made dolmades with the later, I felt compelled to make a batch to my tried and true formula using preserved vine leaves to reassure myself that in fact it was not the leaves that were at fault. Meanwhile, I think I may have found a source of fresh vine leaves, so in the future I’ll be able to compare the flavours and textures of fresh versus pickled.
For me the essence of success with the combination of brined vine leaves and unsalted rice filling is the capacity of the rice to absorb salt and make the leaves palatable.
These guidelines for making dolmades with vine leaves preserved in brine apply.
1. The vine leaves need to be separated, soaked in cold water and rinsed as they can be very salty.
2. Put a layer of leaves on the base of the saucepan 3-4 deep, use any very small or coarse large leaves for this. They act as a buffer to raise dolmades out of the water to prevent flavour loss, and also avoid any scorching
3. Place the filling on the underside of the leaf so when they’re rolled, the smooth glossy surface is on the outside.
4. Don’t overfill the parcels, but be sure to roll each dolma tightly.
5. Closely pack each layer of stuffed and rolled vine leaves into the pot.
6. Be liberal with the oil so the dolmades don’t stick together.
The rice filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons currants
1 cup short grained rice such as arborio
1 dessert spoon dried mint
1 dessert spoon finely chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil extra
Juice of 1/2 lemon
250g vine leaves preserved in brine
Heat the oil in a small pan, brown the pine nuts then remove them with a slotted spoon to some paper towel to drain. Set aside.
Add the rice to the oil and cook, stirring constantly until it looks translucent.
Add the currants and 1/2 cup of boiling water, reduce the heat and simmer until the water is absorbed, stirring frequently.
Continue adding small quantities of boiling water as it is absorbed stirring the mixture often.
After 10 minutes, when the rice is creamy, but still firm, remove it from the heat and stir in the pine nuts, herbs and a very generous grinding of fresh black pepper. Spread the rice on a tray to cool.
Prepare the vine leaves as detailed above.
Lay each leaf shiny side down, place a dessertspoon of filling at the stem end, fold in the sides then tightly roll the leaf into a cigar shape.
Line the base of a deep saucepan with a layer of 3-4 flat vine leaves. Lay the dolmades on top in firmly packed layers.
Sprinkle the lemon juice and remaining olive oil on top then add 1/2 cup of water to the pot.
Cover tightly and bring to the boil. Put a simmer mat under the pot, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Steam for 20 minutes.
Cool before serving.