Well, as most of you may know Greece has a long tradition of stuffing foods with other foods, wrapping foods in other foods and so forth. And this goes beyond Greece and over to various Mediterranean and other countries. A few years ago, a Turkish friend and I bonded over our mutual fascination for foods that you can stuff.
In Greece we have of course the all-famous gemista (stuffed vegetables with rice or meat) that are one example of this tradition. Another example is of course the all-famous dolmades.
So this week, as we open a jar of vine leaves, we set off to make our own version of this classic dish. Traditionally, vine leaves had to be briefly boiled before being used. But these ones require no such preparation. They are ready for you to fill! And we must admit, we love this!
The first few that you will roll are the hardest. Then somehow your fingers and hands learn their way around the vine leaves and before you know it you are rolling dolma after dolma, feeling relaxed and at peace.
2/3 jar (around 75) vine leaves
1 large white onion
1 small bunch of spring onions
6 tbsp olive oil, plus 5 tbsp more for cooking
300g Carolina rice
3 cups of water
1 large bunch of dill
1 large bunch of parsley
1 large bunch of mint
juice of half a lemon, plus more for cooking
Finely chop the onion and spring onions.
In a medium-sized pot and over medium-low heat place the olive oil and onions and cook until soft and transluscent.
Add the rice and 3 cups of water. Season with salt and cook until the rice still has a bite, for around 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Finely chop all your herbs. Mix well the herbs with the rice and the lemon juice. Adjust for seasoning. Let the rice cool down completely.
Remove the leaves from the jar and carefully rinse under cold water. Pat dry.
In a chopping board or clean surface, lay a vine leaf, veins down, bottom side down and the pointy sides facing away from you. Place a quite large teaspoon of the rice mixture in the middle. Carefully fold the vine leaf bottom edges forwards, then the two sides inwards. Then roll it away from you, like a cigar. Make sure to roll them as tightly as you can, otherwise they will fall apart during cooking -trust me, I have been there!
Place the dolmadakia tightly together, seam side down, in concentric circles in a pot and in one layer. If you have more and need to continue to a second layer, place some vine leaves between the two layers.
Pour over the dolmadakia around 5 cups of water, so that they are just covered with water. Drizzle 5 tbsp of olive oil and more lemon juice, around 4 tbsp. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat and let the dolmadakia cook until the rice and vine leaves are tender, for around 40 minutes.
Serve with more olive oil, lemon wedges and some Greek yogurt.