Sunday, August 31, 2008

Red River Dolmas (Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves)

This was my first attempt at making stuffed grape leaves, and the result was a delicious surprise. The leaves are wild and abundant here, and for a stuffing I used brown rice, dried apricots, walnuts, and a few fresh herbs and dried spices. I have been meaning to try my hand at dolmas since I first saw folks picking wild grape leaves along the river downtown a couple of years ago. The wild grape bushes are thriving along the banks of the Red River this summer. Here's a couple of grape leaf pictures, with the muddy Red in the background.

I picked a couple of dozen, with an ample choice of big, tender leaves with no blemishes or spots.

At home, the first step was to give the leaves a quick cleaning rinse, and cut off the stems right at the leaf base. Next, blanch the leaves in boiling water, followed quickly by submersion in ice water to keep them from cooking any more. The blanching makes the leaves pliable for wrapping around the dolma filling. I dipped them in boiling water for just a couple of seconds - they turned almost instantly from a bright green to the more olive green color typical of canned grape leaves.

Meanwhile, it's time to make a stuffing. I tried to come up with something vaguely Eastern European/Mediterranean, and the filling is a fine salad on its own.

Here's a list of the stuffing ingredients:
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup dried apricot, diced
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, diced
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh chives
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. cumin powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Now it's time for a big dolma assembly line in the kitchen. Place a single grape leaf with the veins facing up on your work surface. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling onto the leaf, about a half inch above the bottom center of the leaf. Fold the leaf bottom up over the filling, and fold in the left and right sides. Holding the sides securely above the filling, roll the rest of the leaf up like a spring roll or a tortilla. This is pretty cool, because the leaf vein at the top of the grape leaf should line up exactly with the base of the stem. The stuffed leaf should hold together well (despite my doubts, every one stayed intact).

Continue the process until you have a pan full of lovely stuffed grape leaves, like this:

Now it's stewing time. I saw this part on a cooking show one time - cover the bottom of a large stew pot with thinly sliced potatoes. This keeps the leaves from burning during the stewing process, as they are shielded by the valiant potato defense. Place the dolmas on top of the potato layer, and add just enough water to cover the dolmas, along with a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of lemon juice.

Place a heavy plate on top of the dolmas, which will keep them from moving around during the stewing process. Stew for about a half hour over heat just high enough to keep the water simmering. After stewing, allow the liquid to cool a bit before removing the dolmas, which will have swelled up with lemony olive oily tastiness. Don't throw out those potatoes either, which are a tasty by-product. The dolmas will keep for a few days chilled in the fridge, and I think the flavor gets better a day or two later.

1 comment:

Lisa (Show Me Vegan) said...

wow, when are you opening your vegan restaurant? Very nice.