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Grape leaves make tasty dolmades May 16, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes.

By early May, in the vineyards of Greece, tender, young grape leaves are collected in vast quantities and brought into the kitchen.

While fresh and vibrant, some are used immediately to prepare the popular specialty we have all come to know as dolmas, or dolmades. The remaining leaves are wrapped in bunches of 50 or so in aluminum foil and placed in the freezer. That way, no matter the time of year, parties won’t be, in the culinarily correct vernacular, “dolmades challenged.”

If you have a source for fresh, chemical-free grape leaves, then you are lucky. To use in this recipe, they need only be rinsed; cut the stems off at the base where they encounter the leaf. To store future batches of leaves, simply stack up to 50 leaves and wrap tightly in foil. Remember, if you use leaves that have been packed in brine, they need a thorough soaking and rinsing before you can proceed with this recipe.

Dolmas with Lamb, Lentils and Fennel
3⁄4 cup lentils
1⁄2 cup uncooked medium-grain rice
11⁄2 cups finely chopped onion
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fennel bulb
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1⁄2 pound ground lamb (as lean as possible)
1⁄2 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 tablespoon ground cumin
11⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper
30 to 40 fresh grape leaves, stems removed
3 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 to 6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Lemon Sauce (recipe follows)

Method >
Place the lentils, rice and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes; remove from heat.

Saute the onion, fennel and garlic in the olive oil over medium-high heat until onions are transparent and tender; remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine cooled onion mixture and lentils with the lamb, beef, cumin, salt, allspice and pepper, mixing well.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling onto stem-end of a grape leaf; fold stem-end over filling, then fold sides of leaf over filling to enclose and, from stem-end, roll leaf jelly-roll fashion. As leaves are filled and rolled, lay them, seam-side down, in the bottom of a heavy skillet, fitting them together neatly, but not too tightly (they will expand slightly as they cook). Because this recipe makes about 30 or 40 dolmas (depending on size), you will either have to use two skillets, or cook dolmas in two batches.

Mix the chicken broth and lemon juice in a container. Pour enough broth mixture over grape leaves so they are just covered; add 6 garlic halves to skillet. Place a heavy oven-proof plate, slightly smaller than skillet diameter, over the top of dolmas to keep them from moving around and unrolling during cooking. Cook at a slow simmer over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, just until meat has cooked through and dolmas appear slightly plumped. (If your lamb is particularly high in fat, you may have to spoon off some of the broth toward the end of cooking as fat is released from meat.)

While dolmas are cooling, prepare Lemon Sauce.

Dolmas may be served hot, cold, or at room temperature. The sauce can be set out for dipping, or drizzled over dolmas before serving. Dolmas will keep in the refrigerator (cover them with a bit of cooking liquid and perhaps some olive oil) for up to 3 days, or frozen for 6 months. Makes approximately 30 to 40 dolmas.

LEMON SAUCE: Whisk together 2 egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small pan, over medium heat, then whisk in 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, stirring until smooth. Add 1 cup of hot cooking liquid from dolmas, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a simmer and begins to thicken. Reduce heat. Stir a couple tablespoonfuls of hot broth mixture into egg yolks, then slowly add egg-yolk mixture to broth, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice and continue stirring and cooking until sauce has thickened a bit more. Stir in 2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley. Adjust seasonings, adding salt if desired. 

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