I have made a serious attempt to end my love affair with TV newscasts and I think I have succeeded. However, I still find it difficult to resist the temptation to read about any current facts and situations and about possible future scenarios, acknowledging of course that this daily feeding is not only a kind of dependency that goes beyond me and displeases me, but it also increases the stress factor so much that my mind sometimes reaches its limits. And here, over the past few days I owe a lot to my friend Simone, who almost pulled me out of the hole I had fallen in, making me think of how nothing but a bold black line defines the limit of what concerns us and most importantly guards, like a ghost, our ability to dream freely in a country of the most indebted sun and bankrupt blue sky (the latter valued at spiritual cost as opposed to euros).
As such, I focus on the people close to us who propel us up, who have the power to provide light in the tunnel at a time when we need it and who magically dust off our fears and define the essence of the contents of our world, regardless of objects or banknotes or social injustice or even the paranoia of third parties. When much of the rest of ‘high society’ crumbles down to the bottom where detritus gets lost and remains unknown, this human constant becomes the unmovable base to steady ourselves. Feelings and experiences, as you already know, do not get taxed; they are precious bonds whose stock value isn’t affected by external factors, perceptions, local or world crisis.
With this in mind, I feel more than lucky, rich, proud and grateful to have the support of such unique friends, with such excess of intelligence, courage and spirit, to support me during my own recession.
Whilst on this valuable subject I have another precious friend who gave me this recipe, and whilst alive, made these mignon stuffed vine leaves continuously and in copious amounts. I am referring to Mrs. Grammatiki (the name means Grammar) who was like an unofficial mother and of whom I am sure I have written about before.
The interesting thing about these stuffed vine leaves is not only their asset due to their cute size, but how appealing the small and extra small size looks on the plate. Personally, I have tried lots of different small dolmades, but none as mouthwatering as these. So flavorful with an aroma that comes from the combination of the rice with the fresh vine leaves, onion, mint and chopped fennel tops.
I must admit that whilst making the recipe following her almost, clear instructions, when it came to the stuffing and folding, there was a vague cloud of confusion. I can assure you though, finally it’s so easy, it’s actually enjoyable. Have a look at the photos -they are a big help. After about the 3rd folded vine leaf one, your fingers just take on a life of their own, and even for someone with not so nimble hands, it won’t take any more than 30 minutes for all of them.
These small vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs are one of the best Greek dishes, where their flavours are established by their delicate simplicity, and they could easily hold their own on a classy party menu better than a lot of other common favourites. If you try the recipe, I bet there won’t be any left over, but in the rare case I lose, please let me know!
Note: The small dolmades stuffed with rice are also known as “yialatzi”, which is the Turkish word for false or bogus probably because the original version contained mincemeat. The fresh vine leaves need to be blanched in boiling water, but then they can be kept in the freezer. Only one word of warning here – when frozen they break very easily, so keep them packed horizontally and protected in a Tupper.
Small stuffed vine leaves – dolmades
Preparation: 1- 1½ hours, depending on how fast the folding is done, plus 30 mins cooking time. If you use prepared vine leaves, blanching won’t be necessary. The ingredients can be finely chopped whilst the rice is cooking. The whole recipe can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and kept covered in the fridge.
Ingredients (for about 100 small dolmades – serves 8 or more as an appetizer dish)
100 med vine leaves and 10 extra
100 ml olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
For the stuffing:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, grated
2-3 whole spring onions, and the green part, finely chopped
1 bunch feathery fennel tops, finely chopped
10 large mint leaves, finely chopped
½ k short grain rice
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
To blanching the vine leaves: Pick up the leaves between 2 slotted spoons, in groups of 10-15, and dip for 5-8 seconds in a pan of boiling water.
Note: They don’t need to boil more -just enough to soften, so they don’t break whilst folding.
Remove and cool immediately under running water or in a large bowl with iced water. Repeat this process till the last group.
To prepare the filling: In a pan, on med heat, heat the 3 tbsp olive oil and add the onion. Sauté for 2-3 mins then add the rice. Stir for another 2-3 mins. Add the water and slowly boil for 10 mins, until the rice begins to soften but not completely cooked.
Remove pan from heat, allow to cool, and add remaining stuffing ingredients, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
To wrap the dolmades: Take 1 leaf and place 1 tsp of stuffing mix in the centre. Firstly fold the right side of the leaf and then the left on top, giving an elongated shape, with the stuffing on the bottom end. Fold and roll the leaf with closure on the underside. Ready! Repeat this until all the stuffing is finished and keeping the largest leaves to the side. These are placed in the bottom of the pan and on top of the last layer of dolmades.
To layer the pan: Completely cover the base of the pan with the larger vine leaves by placing one next to the other- partial doubling up is allowed. Start by placing the dolmades around the edge of the pan, leaving no spaces and slowly working your way to the centre – as in the photo. Once one layer is done, start the next layer on top, and so on.
To cook: Cover the last layer with the larger vine leaves, add the lemon juice, olive oil, pepper and water to cover, and place a small plate upside down on the top of them all- as in the photo. Put on the heat, and as soon as they start to boil, lower the heat to med/low, cover the pot and cook for 30 mins. When finished, allow to cool slightly and remove the plate and large vine leaves on the top layer.
To serve: Small stuffed vines leaves are served at room temperature, on a large serving plate and like Lego pieces – they look really nice. Slices of lemon are usually served alongside -not only for those who like a more sour taste, but also because the yellow of the lemon lightens the dark green/brown of the dolmades and opens up the appetite!