Ladies and gentlemen, here it is the great Dolma. Does this old recipe, whose origins are rooted in the former Ottoman Empire, need any introduction?
It’s a traditional Balkan dish and yet for those who have never explored the Balkans its name may not say a lot. Dolma means “stuffed thing”, from verbal noun of the Turkish verb dolmak, ‘to be stuffed’. This grapevine leaves roll is known as a very popular dish of the Mideastern and central European cuisine where is also served as a traditional appetizer on Christmas and New Year’s eve.
Different countries and sometimes even different regions have their own version. In Turkey, you can taste two main types of dolma; the “kıyma” (meat mixture) filled ones, with onion, pine nut and rice; and the vegetarian ones, filled with rice, olive oil, pine nuts, herbs such as fresh parsley, dill and mint, and spices such as cinnamon and black pepper.
In the Armenian and Serbian cuisine, grape leaves are often replaced by cabbage leaves to make Sarma, a word meaning “wrapped thing”. This dish is spiced with coriander, dill, mint, pepper, cinnamon and melted butter. Sometimes chestnuts and peas are part of the mix and yogurt with garlic is used as a sauce (tzatziki in Greece and Cyprus).
I find it difficult (impossible?) to buy vine leaves in London. If I only lived nearby a vineyard! I would have picked up some fresh vine leaves (with previous authorization from the owner, possibly), boiled them in salted water and then proceeded as per the recipe.
No vineyard nor ethnic shop selling jars of vine leaves in sight, I had to rely on the kindness of Gordana, who bought them for me during her holidays spent between the beautiful Croatian coast and a peaceful town located on the Sana River in Bosnia. My package contained so many leaves that I couldn’t cook everything for just one meal! I stored them in an air tight container and only after more than a week I rinsed the leaves to wash away the salt, boiled in water and stored them again in the fridge.
These vine leaves emit an intoxicating scent, their cooking vapors bringing up something special to the nostrils, a unique aroma that no other ingredient radiates. Grapevine overtones, I’d say. I’m not sure if it is common to accompany them with a glass of full-bodied red wine: I personally believe Dolmades and wine is a natural pairing (well, is there any Mediterranean dish that doesn’t pair well with wine?). Grape leaves were surprisingly easy to handle – easier than playing with origami – and the rolls tasted great, similar to what I’ve had in Greece. If the preparation time was shorter I would definitely make them more often.
- 1 cup rice
- 3-4 cups water
- 15 wine leaves
- 1/3 cup walnuts crushed
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced
- Juice of 1 freshly-squeezed lemon
- 3/4 cup vegetable broth
- salt to taste
- 1/2 cup mint finely chopped
- In a shallow pan, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook for five minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Add the rice and stir.
- Cover the pot, and cook gently for approximately 15 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice, mint, pine nuts and crushed walnuts. Cover the pan and let rice cool down for 10 minutes.
- Use knife to cut each stem off the vine leave. Fold the leaf over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and then roll up into a cigar-cylindrical shape.
- Squeeze lightly in the palm of your hand to secure the rolls and repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
- Arrange the stuffed grape on a pan, packing them close together. Try not to leave too much space between them as they will unravel.
- Pour the 2 cups hot water, olive oil, and lemon juice over them. Weigh the stuffed grapes rolls down with an ovenproof plate turned upside down (smaller than the pan).
- Cook approximately 45 minutes or until the grape rolls are tender and the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and let sit, taking the lid off when cooled down.
- Squeeze extra lemon on top.