Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Kokkari: Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves with Rice, Zucchini, and Herbs)

I haven't been eating Greek food for very long.  I don't think I even really knew what it was until I was in college.  But as soon as I put some moussaka in my mouth, I knew it was meant to be.  The beautiful flavors of the Mediterranean (tomatoes, oregano, olives, lamb) just waiting for me.

The thing that I absolutely love the most when I visit a Greek restaurant are the stuffed grape leaves.  There's just something about the rice and ground lamb hiding inside a tender leaf smothered in lemon sauce that hits all the right notes for me.  But I always figured that it would be a restaurant-only treat.  Everyone knows that nothing tastes the same when you make it at home.  Unless you get a cookbook from a Greek restaurant named Kokkari.

I got this cookbook on a bit of a whim, assuming that the recipes would be to difficult to bother with, but this recipe turns out the most succulent little grape leaves I've had in a while.  They are definitely quite a bit of work, I won't lie, but they more than make up for it.  And the recipe makes enough for an entire Christmas party.  Unless you start sneaking a taste long beforehand as you hunker over the kitchen sink.

Domades (Stuffed Grape Leaves with Rice, Zucchini, and Herbs)
From Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors by Erik Cosselmon

One jar (16-ounce) preserved grape leaves
¾ cup plus ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups finely diced onion
2 cups Uncle Ben's converted rice (not Minute Rice or instant rice)
½ cup peeled, seeded, and diced plum tomato
2 cups packed coarsely shredded zucchini
½ cup chopped fresh dill, plus 2 sprigs
½ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
⅓ cup plus ½ cup fresh lemon juice, plus 2 slices lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the grape leaves for 5 minutes, then drain.  Place in ice water to cool quickly, then drain again.  This blanching removes excess salt.  Cut away the leaf stems.  Set aside 48 to 54 of the best-looking grape leaves for the dolmades; reserve the rest for lining the cooking pot.

In a large pot, heat the ¾ cup olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the rice and stir to coat evenly with the oil.  Continue cooking until the rice is hot, about 2 minutes.  Add 2 cups of water and boil briskly, stirring often, until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and the oil begins to rise to the surface, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  (The rice will still be undercooked.)  Stir in the tomato, zucchini, chopped dill, mint, and parsley.  Add the ⅓ cup lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste.  Set aside until the rice is cool enough to handle.

Line the bottom of a large pot with 2 layers of the reserved leftover grape leaves to keep the dolmades from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Arrange the remaining leaves on the counter, a dozen at a time, with the shiny side down and the stem end toward you.  Stir the rice filling to redistribute the oil, then put 2 tablespoons filling at the base of each leaf in a loose log shape about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide.  Fold the base of each leaf over the filling, tucking it into a tight log shape, then fold in the sides.  Continue rolling away from you, as if rolling a burrito, to create a package shaped like a short, thick cigar.  Arrange the dolmades, seam side down, side by side in the prepared pot, packing them tightly.  You should be able to fit about 30 on the bottom; make a second layer with the remaining dolmades.

Combine the ½ cup olive oil and the ½ cup lemon juice and pour over the dolmades.  Stir 1 teaspoon salt into 1½ cups water and pour over the dolmades; add more water if needed to come just to the tops.  Top with the lemon slices and dill sprigs.  Place an inverted heavy plate inside the pot to weight the dolmades, then set the pot over high heat.  When the liquid comes to a boil, adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer.  Cook until the liquid has reduced to the level of the plate, about 45 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool until the dolmades are just warm and have absorbed the remaining liquid.  Remove the plate.

Serve the dolmades warm or at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate them for up to 1 week.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 4 to 4½ dozen dolmades

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