Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas meal, stage two

My mother was Greek, born aboard ship as her mother sailed into New York harbor, according to family legend. I always told this story, but never quite believed it until my aunt unearthed a birth certificate that noted her birth as three days earlier than we had always celebrated. We also have a birth certificate showing the later date. It made me wonder if someone got paid off to alter her official birth date so that she was born on American soil, and thus was a citizen.

Homemade dolmades, or stuffed grapevine leaves, are something I've eaten all my life. I mostly make them for holiday meals, because they're time consuming and use every pot in the house, as does a lot of Greek cooking. They're also great to make just before a manicure because you'll spend about 20 minutes with your fingers immersed in hot olive oil, which makes your skin soft and lovely.

We've always made these vegetarian. I never had meat-filled dolmas until I was an adult. This recipe is from the outstanding Can The Greeks Cook by Venos and Prichard. Their recipe calls for more grapevine leaves (15 oz.) and only half of what I've written for everything else; I've found that the following measures work better. The page for this recipe, the most stained in the book, shows the doubled measure in my mother's handwriting, and my note "Always double this recipe!"

Grapevine Leaves with rice filling

1 jar grapevine leaves (8 or 9 oz)
2 cups of rice
2 cups olive oil
2/3 cup lemon juice
6-10 cups water
1-2 large onions, diced
4 T. tomato paste
4 T. parsley, fresh or 2 1/2 dried (mint is also nice; don't use as much)
1 T sea salt
1 T green peppercorns, ground (black is also fine. Please grind your own)

Soak rice for 30 minutes in 2 cups cold water and 1 teaspoon table salt. Saute onion over medium flame in one cup water until tender, about 15 minutes. Add oil and simmer 5 minutes. Drain rice, add rice and tomato paste to the oil/onion mixture, add salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add parsley and cook 3 minutes. Add half of lemon juice and continue simmering for 5 minutes. Don't short the times! Allow this to sit a few minutes, covered. This will allow the rice to absorb some more moisture, and also to get cool enough to handle.

Spread the grapevine leaves on a large wooden cutting board. Starting from the stem, place about 2 T of rice per leaf; roll a little ways from the stem end, fold in the sides and continue rolling tightly. Arrange in layers in medium compact saucepan. pour remaining lemon juice over rolls, along with one cup of water and any remaining oil in the pan. I'm afraid you'll have to eat any left-over rice now.

Cover and bring to a boil; strong simmer for 5 minutes over high flame. Reduce heat and simmer lightly about 15 minutes. Add another cup of water if the first has been absorbed. Reduce heat to low, and continue cooking for 15 minutes or until rice is tender.

Serve hot or cold. Makes about 30-40 small rolls. Some of them will fall apart. Use those to taste-test.


  1. I love you for this. If there's one food genre I miss it's greek. Puu is sending me some grape vine roots and I'm hoping they take off for more reasons than just the fruit. I don't want to wait that long for handmade dolemades though!
    Hrm, I've got tons of wild grapes on our property - I wonder if they're edible....

  2. I've got wild native grapevines growing along my cyclone fence, but have never had the guts to try to brine them myself. I always see the Guatamalan ladies in the alley harvesting the leaves.