Greek Dolma or Stuffed Grape Leaves

My mom used to make stuffed grape leaves on special occasions – it really is a time consuming labor of love. She made them with ground lamb, pine nuts, rice, garlic, dill, paprika, and cooked them in a thin tomato sauce. Of course we had lemon and tzatziki sauce on the side. The paprika might seem odd – it’s probably a Hungarian or Turkish influence like in stuffed peppers – but it works if you like paprika; it’s optional. I cut out the mint because my wife isn’t a fan, but you can add mint if you like it; think lamb + mint = yum.

Ingredients

Filling

  • 8 oz grape leaves (or 1/2 jar), preserved grape leaves
  • 1/2 lbs ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup white rice, uncooked
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 Tbsp currents (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped (optional to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1 tsp black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tsp paprika (optional to taste)

Tzatziki Sauce

  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp diced onion (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp diced garlic
  • 1 lemon squeezed
  • 1 Tbsp dill
  • 1 tsp chopped mint (optional)

Cooking

  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water

Sides

  • Serve with lemon wedges and tzatziki sauce

Directions

Tzatziki Sauce

Prepare tzatziki sauce 3-4 hours before meal, and set in refrigerator.

Peel and seed cucumber, then grate it into a bowl. Stir in a pinch of salt, and let it stand for 10 minutes.

Squeeze out water.

In a bowl mix cucumber, yogurt, garlic, onion, dill, lemon, mint.

Stuffing

Start by soaking grape leaves in large bowl of water to separate them and remove the brine.

In a large bowl mix lamb, uncooked rice, olive oil, parsley, onion, pine nuts, currents, mint, salt, pepper, and paprika.

The grape leaves have a smooth side and a ribbed side and they usually have 5 distinct chambers.

Start rolling with leaves rib-side up, then place ~1 tsp of stuffing mixture on the central stem, then pull up the bottom 2 chambers, then pull in the left and right chambers, finish by rolling over the top chamber.

Place several leaves in the bottom of the pot to cover, and spoon in a few tablespoons of tomato sauce on top of that. Then place a layer of dolma on top of that, seem side down. Then a layer of leaves and a layer of sauce. Then a layer of dolma. Then a layer of leaves and a layer of sauce.

Add water to cover, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cover. Let simmer for about 50 minutes or until rice is cooked – test one or two with a fork after 30 minutes.

When they are finished cooking serve with side of tzatziki sauce and lemon wedges.

Ottoman Feast

I wanted Middle Eastern food so here’s the menu I came up with: Shish Kabob with Tzatziki Sauce, Baba Ganoush and Tabbouleh. Chopping and prep takes a while, but the results are awesome.

Ingredients

Shish Kabob Marinade
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Kabobs
top-round beef
green peppers
onions
(sautéed mushrooms on the side)

Baba Ganoush
1 large eggplant
1/4 cup tahini
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 pinch ground cumin
salt, to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup kalamata olives

Tabbouleh
1 cup bulghur wheat or couscous
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup good olive oil
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Tzatziki Sauce
1 medium peeled or unpeeled cucumber
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (from 6-oz container)
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint (optional)

Directions

Shish Kabobs

shish-kabobThese are the easiest to make. Cut top-round beef into 2 inch cubes. For the Shish Kabob Marinade, mix ingredients together, let kabob meat marinate for at least 2 hours.

My pattern was green pepper, meat, onion, meat, green pepper. I got 4 pieces of meat on one skewer.

I cooked them on the grill for about 10 minutes – flipping them over at 5 minutes – then I put the whole lot in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Baba Ganoush

baba-ganoushIt is tricky to cook eggplant just right so that it is soft, fully cooked, and not spongy. I had to play with it a little to get the right consistency. After cooking in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes I put the uncooked pieces into the microwave to soften them up.

Remove eggplant from the oven, let cool slightly, and peel off and discard the skin. Place the eggplant flesh in a bowl. Using a fork, mash the eggplant to a paste.

Add the 1/4 cup tahini, the garlic, the 1/4 cup lemon juice and the cumin and mix well. Season with salt, then taste and add more tahini and/or lemon juice, if needed.

I think I used 3/4 cup of tahini and quite a bit of salt to balance out the lemon. In the end it came out a little chunky, but it tasted fresh and good.

Tabbouleh

tabboulehThis recipe is the most time consuming: I cut the green onion, parsley and mint with kitchen sheers.

Place the bulghur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, and add the lemon juice, olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir, then allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Add the scallions, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper; mix well. Season, to taste, and serve or cover and refrigerate. The flavor will improve if the tabbouleh sits for a few hours.

This recipe taught me a new technique to make fine-chopped cucumber: cut cucumber in half, quarter halves length wise, cut out the seed patches, slice the pieces length wise (2 or 3 slices), then chop the slices (perpendicular) into small pieces.

Tzatziki Sauce

Mix ingredients together and season to taste. I added celery salt and dill and dash of sugar (the celery salt was too spicy).