Stuffed grape leaves for dinner

Every time I go through the vineyards I think about picking some of the leaves the next Spring from the ends of the rows where they are typically more abundant than the grapes that will hang in that area; I have yet to make time during the Spring to do so.  Having Greek and Lebanese friends (but not grape vines) most of the other places I lived there seemed to be an endless supply of these heavenly little delicacies and I decided I wanted some.  I purchased a jar of preserved grape leaves (originating in California but packaged in Vietnam – go figure) last month to make dolmas (stuffed grape leaves).  It is about time I learned to make these for myself since they aren’t much different from making the cabbage rolls I make all the time.

Under a small stream of water from the kitchen tap I carefully unrolled and teased apart the individual grape leaves, rinsing the brine from the leaves and straightening them out with the help of the water.  Laying them vein side up along the counter with the stems facing me I removed the small stem from each leaf with a pair of scissors; pinching between my finger nails worked for the largest leaves, but not for the smaller, more fragile ones.  Some of the leaves were torn, so I left them aside.

My filling was a mixture of ground lamb, uncooked white rice, and seasonings; the recipe is below.  More moist than the filling for my cabbage rolls and needing so much less per leaf; I used a spoon to place some at the base of the grape leaf, where I clipped the stem.  I provided you with a handy-dandy picture showing you how to roll the leaves for best results.  Not too tight as the rice has to have a bit of room to expand inside the wrapping.

I oiled the bottom of my wide, shallow, heavy saucepan and placed the wrapped dolmas in two flat layers.  Lemon juice from one lemon, another tablespoon of olive oil and broth to cover the layers in the pot finished the preparations.  Once the broth is beginning to simmer, lower the heat to keep them from jostling each other and opening.  Maintain the simmer for about an hour, being sure to cook the meat and rice all the way through.  If you see there isn’t enough liquid to cover the grape leaves, add enough to just cover and finish cooking.

Tzatziki made with my sheep-milk yogurt, grated cucumber and the juice of half a lemon will accompany these delightful dolma and falafel for supper.  There were enough cherry tomatoes and fresh basil to make Hubby a Caprese salad as well.

Dolmas

1 8 oz jar of preserved grape leaves, drained, rinsed, stem removed, vein-side up

1/2 pound ground lamb

1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves chopped

1 tablespoon pinenuts

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon dry oregano

1 egg

juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups broth or water

Prepare the grape leaves first, spread them along the counter with the vein-side (back) of the leaves up; clip off the stem.

Mix together the lamb, rice, olive oil, pine nuts, seasonings and egg.  Drop by tablespoon full onto the base of each leaf.  (Note: larger leaves can handle a bit more filling while smaller leaves need less.)  Using the photo to guide you if you haven’t rolled grape leaves before: 1) start with the basal sections and fold them up over the filling, 2) bring the side sections toward each other over the filling, attempt to fold the top leaf section to fit the size of the packet if necessary, 3)roll the covered filling toward the tip of the leaf.

Lay the filled grape leaves seam-side down in an oiled heavy pot, if there are torn leaves, you can lay them on the oil before neatly placing the rolled packets on top.  Add a second layer if there are too many to fit in one layer in the pot.  Pour the lemon juice over the layers, pour the broth in and add water to cover if necessary.  Watch the pot to be sure the broth simmers but doesn’t boil, dislodging the rolls.  Reduce the heat and maintain a simmer for about an hour to fully cook the lamb and rice.  If the liquid disappears below the top layer add water to ensure the rice has enough moisture to continue to cook.

Remove from the pan to a serving plate with a pair of tongs.  Be gentle as the leaves are fairly fragile.  Serve with tzatziki.

Falafel

1 cup prepared falafel mix (chickpea flour and seasoning based)

1/2 cup hot liquid (water or broth)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Lightly stir the juice and liquid into the dry mix with a fork. Let it rest a couple of minutes while your frying pan heats with olive oil.  Drop the falafel as small balls or patties onto the hot frying pan and flip as soon as cooked on the bottom side.  This is a very quick process.  If you like, you can finely chop onion and garlic, toss into the dry mix and then add the hot liquid and lemon juice.  Serve with tzatziki.

Alice May Brock‘s famous quote has been one of my favorites for years due to the credit she gives garlic – I feel the same way. Have you noticed how much garlic goes into everything I make?  In case you aren’t familiar with it:

‘Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; Wine and tarragon make it French.                           Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek.                                         Soy sauce makes it Chinese; Garlic makes it good.’

And what wine to pair with such a delightful, Mediterranean meal? I would choose a Zinfandel or Primitivo for the lamb and seasonings, but we were headed to the airport for a night flight right after supper; eight-hour minimum wait after consuming alcohol before piloting a plane, so no wine with this dinner.  Cheers!

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