Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on June 10, 2015

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.comI’ve always considered dolmades the perfect food – what other single food item provides you with a vegetable, a carb AND a protein in one tidy little packet? I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have probably eaten hundreds, if not thousands of them in my life. Making them requires some time and patience however, you will be rewarded with an extraordinary eating experience.

If you have never heard of dolmades, let me briefly explain…

Dolmades are stuffed grape leaves — the grape leaves are sold in jars commercially, and sourced in many international markets or online. If you are lucky enough to have grape-growing neighbors, ask them to share their leaves with you — fresh grape leaves definitely make the best eating.

I am particular about how I prepare the grape leaves. First, I rinse them well and then poach them for about 10 minutes in simmering water.  The leaves then need to be trimmed of any stalks and then I overlap them on a large plate for easy access when it’s time to fill them. The filling itself usually includes a mixture of uncooked ground meat (either beef, lamb or pork or a combo of some or all), uncooked rice and spices like oregano, basil, dill, mint or parsley.

The trick to making perfectly moist dolmades is to add a good bit of fat to the meat. I prefer to use a mixture of ground beef and pork but I have made them many times with just ground beef. If you mistakenly buy lean ground beef, make sure to add some extra olive oil to the cooking liquid.

Dolmades were not something we ate every day, because they do take a good bit of time to put together. My dad would fill a huge pot and cook them slowly until the rice had cooked through. The huge pot he would make never lasted very long – usually a matter of hours — or a day, if we were lucky.

Dolmades belong to the category of stuffed vegetables known in most cultures as Dolma, which in Turkish, means to stuff. Depending on what country you are visiting, you will find many different variations. They are popular in countries throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, Russia and Central Asia.

The stuffing may or may not include meat. In Greek, those without meat are called orfana (pronounced or-fa-na) which directly translates to the word orphan, but actually means without. In some cultures, meatless fillings may include lentils, couscous, raisins, currants, pine nuts or even other ground nuts. Others may include sweeter versions made with chestnuts, plums, poppy seeds, coconut and raisins.

Dolmades are generally served warm, most often with an egg lemon (avgolemono) sauce or  a chilled tzatziki sauce. The meatless versions are generally the ones that are served cold – these meatless versions are the ones that you will also find mass produced in a can. If you find them, don’t buy them becaue they don’t taste at all like the real thing and you will be disappointed.

My father would also make a version using cabbage leaves, called lahanodolmades (pronounced la-ha-no-dol-ma-des), where the word lahano means cabbage. He sometimes cooked them in the same lemony broth he would use for the grape leaf dolmades, and other times he would make them with an intensely flavored tomato sauce.

However you choose to make them, they are truly unforgettable.

Grape Leaf Dolmades (makes 50-55 pieces)
1 jar grape leaves (about 60 per jar)**side panel has approx count of leaves in the jar & usually several extra just in case some are damaged
1 lb 80/20 or 75/15 ground beef
6 tablespoons of short grain rice **I use long grain because that is what I usually have at home
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 large lemons (slice 2 of them into thin slices and reserve the juice and zest of the other 2)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried mint
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup olive oil plus a little more to grease your stock pot
About 3-4 cups of seasoned beef stock and V-8 juice (I usually use 3c stock to 1c V-8 juice)
NOTE: If you do not have beef stock, you can use 2 Knorr beef bouillon cubes dissolved in 3 cups of hot water

I first begin the process by filling a large pot with clean water. I empty the jar of grape leaves into the water (discard the brine) and slowly peel away each leaf. Rinse well in the water and then drain them in a colander.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Pour out the water and fill it again with fresh water, then heat it until the water comes to a boil. Once it has come to a boil, turn off the water and put in a Chinese skimmer/strainer into the pot before adding the leaves. This will help you hoist them out later. Put the leaves in a large pile and then place them into the boiled water and allow them to poach for about 10 minutes with the heat turned off. The water will help soften them a little more before you begin filling them. After the time is up, use the strainer to hoist out the leaves to drain once more in your colander.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

When the leaves have cooled enough to where they can be handled, trim off any small pieces of visible stems with a small pair of scissors. While you are doing this, separate out the leaves that are torn. I do not throw them away, but use them instead to line the bottom of my cooking pot so that the dolmades at the bottom of the pot do not scorch. Do not even try to wrap these torn ones because they will break open during the cooking process and create a mess. As you trim the stems, separate out the good from the bad leaves.

Here are the trimmed good leaves…

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Here is a torn leaf right down the center, don’t use them…save them to line the bottom of the pot…

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Add a little oil to the bottom of your pot and use the bad leaves to completely line the bottom of the pot.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Have a large plate available and begin lining that with the good leaves. Make sure to overlap them with the underside of the leaves (veins) facing up. This will make it easier for you to access each leaf during the rolling process. As you are lining the plate with the good leaves, keep a running count of how many you have so that you can portion out the the meat mixture for however many you need. You do not want to waste any more leaves than you have to!

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Once the leaves have been prepped, heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a sauté pan and toss in the chopped onion and garlic. Cook until they are translucent and they have caramelized slightly. Toss in the tomato paste and cook together with the onion and the garlic. Stir it well together and then set it aside to cool completely.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

In a medium sized bowl add in the raw ground beef, the rice, zest of 2 lemons and all of the spices. Mix this all together and then toss in the cooled onion and garlic mixture. Toss everything together and begin to proportion the meat mixture to fill the exact number of grape leaves that you have prepped. Start conservatively by scooping out a small amount of meat mixture – about a tablespoon for each dolma. If there is any meat mixture left, just even it out by adding a little more to each pile. Doing this will make the process move faster and ensure that you have used everything up without any waste.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Before you begin wrapping, place a clean kitchen towel, a sturdy paper towel or a large plate in front of you. Take the first leaf and place it in front of you with the underside (veins) of the leaf facing up. Take a piece of your pre-portioned meat and place it at the top part of the leaf closest to you. Fold over the top part of the leaf over the filling, fold in the edges and roll up the dolma.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Place each dolma with the flap side down in the pot, and fit them in snuggly (but not too tightly) together. Finish the first layer, and then add the others in a layer on top. My pot was fairly wide, so I only got 2 layers. If you use a narrower pot, you may even get a third layer.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Once you have finished rolling them and have placed them into your pot, slice the other 2 lemons thinly and place them on top of the top layer.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

We now need to add the remaining liquid. First pour on the oil, then combine the other items together and pour over the dolmades in the pot. The liquid should reach just under the top layer but not cover the top layer. I also had a few extra broken leaves, so I just added them on top of the lemon slices. Use a few heavy plates as close in size to the diameter of the pot as possible. Place these heavy plates on top of the dolmades to weigh them down and keep them immersed in the liquid. If you don’t use something heavy enough, the dolmades will begin floating around the liquid and run the risk of breaking open.

V-8 and beef stock liquid to pour on top of dolmades…

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Use a moderate flame to get the temperature of the liquid well heated, then turn down to a low temperature and cook them for 30-45 minutes. At the 30 or 40 minute mark, check the amount of liquid in the pot and taste one to see if the rice has cooked through. If they are cooked through, you can remove them onto a platter and serve immediately with the egg lemon sauce. If they need a little more time to cook, just leave them a few more minutes, then check again before turning off the heat.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

See how the liquid has evaporated?

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Remove the plates and the leaves to reveal the dolmades…

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

A taste test will make sure that they are perfectly cooked…

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

Egg Lemon Sauce  For Grape Leaf Dolmades
6 egg yolks
Juice of 3 lemons
S&P
2 cups of beef stock
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch, sifted

Place egg yolks into a small bowl and whisk in the juice of the 2 lemons. Add in the sifted cornstarch. Heat the beef stock in a small pot and then temper some of the stock into the egg yolk mixture to bring the yolk mixture up to temperature, then pour the tempered egg mixture into the pot with the rest of the stock. Use a whisk to whisk this all together until it begins to thicken, then cover and remove from the heat. Your sauce should be thick and creamy. Serve a generous amount over your dolmades.

Grape Leaf Dolmades The Greek Way, www.goodfoodgourmet.com

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