A beautiful Black Hills summer is yielding its first fruits in our backyard and causing us to hanker for all things summer and all things Mediterranean.
An old grapevine, planted by the previous owners of the house, which we thought was dead when we moved in early this spring, is now looking as opulent as ever with sprawling vines, hardy leaves, and bunches or ripening grapes promising a great fall harvest. As the male half of our family is mulling the possibility of homemade wine (yes, the pun was intended), I am more inclined to be reminded of hot Mediterranean summer days ending in cool evenings around the table filled with all sorts of natural mezzetta goodness: olives, goat cheese, hummus, grilled fish, and of course – dolmades.
If you have never tasted dolmades (Mediterranean style stuffed grape leaves), now is the perfect time to do so. You can harvest leaves from any grapevine that has not been treated with chemicals, just make sure they are large enough, without hail or insect damage, bright green, and as tender as possible.
I was so grateful for our naturally grown backyard grapevine that I decided to harvest some leaves for a batch of homemade dolmades and share the whole process with my readers. Are you ready to follow me on a Mediterranean adventure?
Once you have picked enough leaves (3-4 dozen, depending on the leaf size), remove stems, and wash them in cold water. In the meantime, bring a pot of water to boil, then drop leaves in the water, cover, and boil for 10-15 minutes. You don’t want leaves to get too soft, but you want them soft enough to be able to make the rolls without leaves cracking or ripping.
When done, rinse leaves in cold water and set them aside to cool while you prepare the filling. The version of dolmades I am sharing is the traditional, vegetarian one. However, if you prefer having meat with your meal, feel free to substitute about 2/3 of rice with ground beef, ground lamb, or chevon. Here is what you will need for the filling:
- 1 cup arborio or other short grain rice
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 Tbsp pine nuts (can substitute chopped walnuts or pecans)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill weed or 1 tsp dried
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup water
- salt to taste
Saute onion in olive oil until soft and translucent but not browned, about 1-2 minutes. Add pine nuts, pepper, paprika, and salt, and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add rice, and stir to coat with oil. Then, pour in water, lower heat to medium, add parsley and dill, stir well, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes. Turn heat off, add lemon juice, mix well, and let cool.
Place grape leaves on a plate veiny side up, put a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center, fold in sides of the leaf over the filling, and start rolling from the stem side of the leaf toward the tip. If leaves are smaller, overlap 2 or 3 of them for each dolma roll. Place rolls “seam” side down in a skillet.
When all the leaves are used up, pour more olive oil over dolmades, add enough water to barely cover, and top with fresh lemon slices. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked.
When done, remove lemon slices, and let dolmades cool. They are best served at room temperature or chilled. For added Mediterranean flair, serve with homemade hummus, warmed pita bread, olives, and a glass of good red wine. Bouzouki music and plate breaking are optional. Opa!