Even though vines abound here, there doesn't seem to be a local version of the Greek dish of stuffed vine leaves. They are easy to make and delicious, so every year since we have lived here I have pickled grape leaves in brine and made dolmades in May or June, when the leaves are at the right stage to pick – about the size of my palm and big enough to contain a teaspoon or two of filling, but not too old and tough that you end up with a mouthful of fibres.
Obviously, you need leaves that have not been sprayed with pesticides. I never spray our vines so I can happily use our own homegrown vine leaves.
60 vine leaves
200 g coarse salt
2 litres water
150 g white long grain rice
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
500 ml chicken stock, warm
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
8 dried tomato halves, finely chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup mint, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
A splash or two of white wine (not more than 1/4 cup)
Salt and pepper
Juice a lemon, and cut the rind into chunks
- Snip the stem off at the junction with the leaf.
- Boil a pot of water and plunge the vine leaves in, leaving them stand for a couple of minutes then draining.
- Carefully separate the leaves one by one and lay them in piles of 10, smoothing each leaf out as you go. [The leaves are ready to use at this point, but I usually brine them and store for at least a few days before continuing.]
- Roll each pile of 10 leaves up into cigars and tie with string. Pack them into preserving jars.
- Boil the water and salt together.
- Once the salt is dissolved and the water boiling pour the brine into preserving jars to a level of about 2/3 full.
- The 'cigars' float so pack as tightly as possible, and if you have such a thing, put a glass disk on top to weigh them down. If not, improvise as best as you can (baking paper, small dish...) and make sure the brine is topped up and the lid sealed.
- Sweat the onion in the olive oil for about 5 minutes.
- Add the rice grains and stir them around so they are well coated.
- Add the stock and cook on low heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. It's ready when most of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Take the rice off the heat and mix in the pine nuts, tomato, herbs and spices.
- Mix in the juice of a lemon and some white wine.
- Season to taste and leave to cool. [Can be done the day before you make the dolmades.]
- Unroll a vine leaf cigar and spread a leaf out on the bench.
- Put a teaspoon or so of filling in the middle of the leaf and shape it into a cylinder shape with your fingers.
- Fold the bottom of the leaf over the rice, then fold in the sides of the leaf, then roll from stem to tip so it forms a log shape.
- Place in a shallow baking tin, packing them in quite tightly.
- Repeat steps 14-17 until all the leaves are used. You can arrange them in two layers.
- Pour boiling water over them until they are almost covered.
- Scatter the lemon peel over the top, drizzle with some olive oil, and cover with foil.
- Heat the oven to 160C and cook the stuffed vine leaves for an hour.
- Allow to cool completely in the refrigerator before serving.
These are always a great success with my French friends, and some of them await the dolmades season with eagerness now they have been introduced to the concept.
Thanks to Ken Broadhurst for the stuffing recipe [link].
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