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Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

My family and I sailed around the Cyclades in Greece a few summers ago, and while we felt that the cuisine on the islands became tedious after a while, there were a few things we never tired of: dolmas, spanikopita, and milk pies.

My dolmas are a bit of a stretch from traditional Greek or Turkish stuffed grape leaves, which sometimes call for pine nuts but never hazelnuts, and which can call for currants or meat but rarely both at the same time. I think that hazelnuts and garlic were meant for each other, truly, and that meat can always be improved with a little fruit. (I plan to devote my life to creating hazelnut/garlic recipes, in fact. Maybe I should start a food blog event devoted to the pairing?)

To be fair, I’m still holding a bit of a grudge against some Greek traditions, anyways. When I tried to visit the island of Delos, we were turned away because the center of the ancient world was closed on Mondays.

I’d still kill for a good Greek milk pie recipe, mind.

Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
(inspired by Apricots on the Nile: A Memoir with Recipes by Colette Rossant)
For the filling
1 1/2 lb ground lamb (you can substitute beef or pork, but lamb is better)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 lb hazelnuts, ground
2 2/3 C rice
1 oz fresh parsley, minced
1 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1/3 C lemon juice
1/2 C olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Everything else
A big jar of grape leaves
1/3 C olive oil
2 1/4 C water (or chicken stock)
Optional: lemon juice and/or yogurt for serving

Rinse off the grape leaves in cold running water. Place them in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain and let them cool as you construct the filling.

Mix all the filling ingredients together. There, your filling is constructed!

One by one, spread out each grape leaf shiny side down. Pinch off the bit of stem that’s sticking out and set it aside. In the center of the leaf place about 1-2 tbsp filling, shaped into a small log. Roll up the leaf according to the second set of instructions here. (You can find another good set of instructions for rolling up the leaves here, too.)

Once you’ve stuffed all the grape leaves you can, find a heavy-bottomed saucepan large enough to contain them. Cover the bottom with a layer of loose grape leaves, the left-over ugly ones or any spares, and throw in those pinched off stems, too. Cover that with a layer of stuffed grape leaves, packed tightly, seam side down. Arrange another layer on top of that, continuing until all the stuffed grape leaves are in there. Cover with another layer of loose grape leaves. Pour the olive oil and water or stock in over that.

Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour, or until done.

Serve hot or cold. (I prefer them cold, but it’s really just a matter of taste.) Optionally, you can drizzle lemon juice on top and serve them with greek yogurt for dipping on the side.

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14 Responses to “Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)”

  1. Anh says:

    I love Dolmas. This recipe sounds wonderful!

  2. brilynn says:

    I’ve been wanting to make these for a while, I just have to figure out where to find grape leaves around here.
    I’m a big fan of spanakopitas too.

  3. Yvo says:

    Mmmmm…. before we went to Greece, I never had milk pie… mmm, and yes, agree, the cuisine gets a bit… old.. quickly. But grape leaves…. I couldn’t get enough! Actually not every place we went to even served them. But ahhh,… I think even the Acropolis is closed on Mondays. *shrug* Luckily we unwittingly chose to sightsee all of Sunday, when everything is free; it’s E12 to get into the Acropolis otherwise, and considering how much my friends hated it, thank goodness we didn’t pay!

  4. mr.ed says:

    On our way home from a wedding in CT last weekend, we stopped at the Alexis diner at I-84 and 9W in NY state. We try to find these places, as they usually have what we crave. The place is enormous, clean, new and shiny with neon soffit lights and huge, friendly crowds.
    We got dolmades as a little side included with the salads with our mammoth lunches. Yeah, we should have split a dish- with another table. No, the gyro meat wasn’t fresh- it was frozen, but pretty good for road food. Those who don’t drive are missing some real eating adventures. And misadventures. We just missed hitting a black bear running across Rte 6 in PA.

  5. Lydia says:

    I made these recently with ground turkey — not quite the same as the lamb, but not bad at all.

  6. Have you experimented at all with using fresh grape leaves? We have lots of them growing in our neighborhood but I haven’t gotten around to trying them.

    Michael Natkin

  7. Danielle says:

    Yvo – I enjoyed the Acropolis. I was busily teaching myself to read Greek properly then, so I had fun with every sign and carved word! Plus, at least it was a bit of a hike upwards.

    mr. ed – It was really wonderful finally meeting you and Liz at the wedding! Honestly, chatting with the two of you was the best part of the event.

    Michael – I haven’t, but I should. My father has a grapevine in his backyard.

  8. Lisette says:

    Hi there,

    I like to draw a line on the number of things you can pair with garlic and make these pairings successful. Peaches and garlic— no! Hazelnuts and garlic— no!

    And here is why: garlic tends to do very well, super well, with things that are oily (olive oil), fat (cream, pine nuts) or acidic (lemon).
    Hazelnuts do not contain as much oil as other nuts and for this reason, pairing them with garlic is less than optimal.
    Do not forget that weird pairings, unusual pairings do not always mean successful pairings! The Greeks have been around longer than you and since hazelnuts grow in Greece, don’t you think they would have paired them together, to a great success?
    So, experiment if you must but I do not predict great successes with this attempt! Sorry to rain on your parade!


  9. mr.ed says:

    re: Garlic
    I make a cornbread with corn, onion, pecans, jalopeno peppers and roasted garlic. Sorry, no leftovers. I haven’t tried hazlenuts, but I’ll bet pignolas would work.

  10. Danielle says:

    Lisette – It may not be to your taste, but it is to mine. Your comment has inspired me to actually start the food blog event I was musing about in the original post. Thank you!

    mr. ed – That sounds awfully good.

  11. [...] I posted my recipe for dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), I mused that I should start a food blog event devoted to pairing garlic with hazelnut, a flavor [...]

  12. [...] (Habeas Brûlée) received the following comment after posting about her Stuffed Grape Leaves made with garlic and hazelnuts: “I like to draw [...]

  13. [...] well, with things that are oily (olive oil), fat (cream, pine nuts) or acidic (lemon),” writes a commenter on her blog. Chocolate is oily and fatty (and sometimes acidic), so this could work. Plus, [...]

  14. Jay Rogers says:

    Hi Danielle, is it really 3/4 lb of hazelnuts (12oz) or is it 3/4 cup?

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