Recipe: Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

This was one of my favorite vegetarian recipes when I was in my teens. Mom didn’t make it often because of the time involved with prepping the grape leaves, then stuffing and rolling them – but I couldn’t really blame her. She worked part time and had me and my two younger brothers to deal with plus a household to run. So, it was quite a treat when she did make them.

She would serve them with raw zucchini, yellow squash, and roasted eggplant strips that had been marinated for at least 8 hours in olive oil, lemon juice, and whatever herbs she felt like adding. Add a few kalamata olives for some extra zing. This makes a delicious appetizer or a light “finger-food” meal, hot or cold. Dolmas do not freeze well, but they will last a few days in the refrigerator – that is, if they don’t get gobbled down in one meal!

The currants combined with the caramelization process during the cooking of the onions make this particular recipe somewhat on the sweet side. If you want to cut the sweetness a bit, omit the currants and replace them with an equal amount of pinons. More pinons, more better, if you ask me!

Dolmas with Marinated Eggplant and Zucchini and a few Kalamatas

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup pinons (pine nuts)
2 large onions, diced fine
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups cooked brown rice
½ cup dried currants
4 teaspoons dried dill weed
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
8 oz. jar grape leaves
2 tablespoons water

Drain the grape leaves ahead of time. Rinse thoroughly and hang over anything that you can find in order for them to drain as much as possible. You don’t want them dripping wet when rolling them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a large baking pan with olive oil-flavored cooking spray and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the Pinons and cook, stirring, until golden. Do not let them burn! Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl. Add the diced onions to the pan and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden brown. (About 15-20 minutes.) Add the chopped parsley and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the reserved Pinons, cooked rice, currants, dill weed, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, and lemon juice. Stir gently to blend.

Spread the grape leaves, veined side up, on a flat surface. Pat dry. Cut off the stem nubs with a sharp knife. Place 1 scant tablespoon of the rice filling near the stem end, fold both sides in, and then roll up.

Arrange the dolmas, seam side down, in a single layer in the prepared baking pan. Brush the tops of the dolmas liberally with more olive oil and sprinkle with water to help them steam. If making them ahead of time, now is the time to cover and refrigerate.

Bake, covered, for about 25 minutes (35 minutes if they were refrigerated) or until hot.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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