|stuffed vine leaves |
You don't really associate a 17th century English provincial housewife (admittedly well-educated and married into gentry) with tastes of the Mediterranean. But she did and I am glad of it since it confirms my belief that the English we are not a nation of food-haters as many writers around the world would have you believe. I hope that she enjoyed the sweet, tanginess of the dried fruit (barberries) with the crunch of pine nuts and the sharpness of the lemon as much as I do.
Stuffed vine leaves are best made with fresh vine leaves and I am lucky enough to have a vine in my garden. It was time to make use of this free food source and to see if fresh was really better than those that are preserved in brine.
A rule of thumb for stuffed vine leaves (dolma or dolmades) is that those that are stuffed with meat are served hot and those that are stuffed with rice and vegetables are served cold.
If you are using fresh leaves, blanch in boiling water for about 30 seconds or until they have changed colour, then snip off the stems. I choose leaves about the size of my hands - which since I have hands of Mabel Lucie Atwell proportions, like small starfish, this probably won't work for you!). I choose leaves of most recent growth, where the stems are still a bit floppy rather than woody, since the leaves won't be as tough.
If you are using leaves that have been soaked in brine, soak in boiling water for 20 minutes (and make sure that the water gets in between all the layers of leaves). Drain, then soak for a few minutes in cold water. Drain and repeat. This will remove any excess salt.
Rolling the leaves is a little fiddly at first - it will take most people a few goes to get the hang of it. Well, it certainly took me a few goes but after a few misshapen and messy efforts, it was pretty simple. When I had finished rolling up the vine leaves, the first half dozen or so of my somewhat monstrous looking dolma were re-rolled. It doesn't do any damage to either leaves or filling.
The filling is from Claudia Roden's Arabesque: A taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon, and is very good with any stuffed vegetables, particularly those served cold.
Skill level: Medium
150ml olive oil
2 x onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tsp tomato paste
200g cooked rice (preferably short grain or risotto rice)
2 tbsp currants, small black raisins or barberries
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground allspice
a handful of chopped fresh mint
a handful of chopped fresh dill
torn vine leaves or tomato slices - to prepare the bottom of the pan for boiling the dolma
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1 x fresh lemon
natural yoghurt - to serve
- Heat 3 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onions until softened (about 10 minutes).
- Add the pine nuts and continue to fry until golden.
- Add the tomato paste and stir to combine before adding the cooked rise, dried fruit, salt and pepper, allspice, fresh mint and dill. Stir well to combine then set aside to cool.
- Place a leaf on a chopping board, towards you and vein side up. I also snip away and tough remnants of the vein/stem.
- Place about 1 teaspoon of the filling in the centre of the leaf and towards the bottom edge.
- Fold the bottom part of the leaf over the filling, then draw the sides in and towards the middle, rolling the leaf up. You will end up with something that looks a bit like a miniature bolster or cigar. The vine leaves should be well tucked in (so that the filling doesn't spill out, nor the leaves unravel while cooking). The finished dolma should feel compact and evenly distributed. (My first attempts seemed to have a dent in the middle where I had wedged my thumb while rolling up the leaves!)
- Line the bottom of a saucepan with any torn or overlarge vine leaves. (If you don't have any leftover leaves, use slices of tomato to line the pan).
- Pack the stuffed vine leaves tightly together on top of the torn leaves. (Packing them in tightly will help to prevent the dolma from falling apart while cooking).
- Combine about 100 millilitres of olive oil with 150ml of water, the sugar and lemon juice. Pour over the stuffed vine leaves.
- Top with a small plate, this will keep the dolma from floating up and unravelling during the cooking process.
- Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour. The liquid will be absorbed by the dolma, giving a lovely sticky finish to the stuffed leaves. If it looks as if they are drying out, then add more water (an espresso coffee cup at a time - about 50 millilitres).
- Leave to cool before turning out to serve at room temperature.
- Reserve any cooking liquid. This can be reduced down and combined with a little more olive oil, then drizzled over natural yoghurt to serve.
- These will last about 5 days in the fridge.