Happy New Year! This year's New Year's Eve was filled lots a lot of laughter, food, dancing and cab hailing. I wanted to take something special to the first party at N's house and for it to be easy-to-eat-while-standing-and-talking food.
So while walking around downtown after getting home from the airport, I came up with dolmades. After having made them for T's Superbowl party last year, I decided that these are a) once a year kind of recipes and b) special occasion only. They take a lot of TLC and several hours to make...but the reward of good food and lots of compliments is well worth it.
This time around, I added a new spin to the traditional ingredients. Instead of pine nuts and currants, I used almonds and chopped dates. This was a much less expensive recipe and equally as good. So I prepped all the filling ingredients first, so all I had to do was empty each one into the pan or bowl.
This is what the filling looks like after the onions, garlic and almonds are sauteed and mixed with everything else. One cool thing that I didn't know about dolmades until I made them last year, is that you add the rice in raw, so that when you boil the stuffed leaves, it cooks and expands to make a nice final package.
The initial rolling process is a little bit awkward, but after a few times through, you get into a nice groove. You start to realize what shape of leaf is going to work better than others. And they do come in quite a few shapes within the same jar. This particular jar had a lot of sediment, so I rinsed them a little before putting them in the simmer water.
After looking through about a dozen recipes, I concluded that the traditional version requires a lot of oil while cooking. I chose to keep them as light as possible, so I boiled them in mostly water and lemon juice and a splash of olive oil. Another important part of the the instructions is placing a plate or the bottom of a springform pan on top of the dolmades while boiling. And then I put a heavy pitcher full of water on top of that. This ensures that the little stuffed leaves won't unravel while boiling. And after all that hard work, you'll want them all to turn out. And oh my...what a great way to start the new year. I saved a few for us to snack on this weekend after all the parties. So please let me know if you take the plunge and make them. It is so much fun!
Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse's Dolmades on Foodnetwork.com
Makes about 4 dozen
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1 cup white rice, raw
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
3 lemons, 2 juiced and 1 reserved for sqeezing on at the end
1 jar grape leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute the onions in 2 Tbsp olive oil until translucent, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and almonds, completely integrating for about 2 minutes. Turn off heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Toss the rice, salt, dates, mint, parsley and 1 lemon's worth of juice into the onion mix. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
Bring a medium covered pot of water to a boil, and then turn down to simmer. Clear off a big section of your counter or kitchen table and line with towels. Take about 5 grape leaves at a time, and drop in hot water for a few seconds, swirling them around a little. Remove them from the water with tongs and lay them flat on prepared towels. Allow to cool off a bit. Repeat with the remaining leaves, until you have about 4 1/2 dozen good sized leaves without tears.
Start assembling the grape leaves by taking one leaf at a time. Put about a teaspoon of filling in. The first few will seem a little awkward, but you will quickly get into a groove. Pull the two ends in toward the center, and roll the filling inside with the other two sides, as if you are making a burrito. Be careful to not fold too tightly, so the leaves don't break and also because the rice will expand during cooking.
Place the finished rolled leaves into a dutch oven or large pan, seam side down. This is important, so the leaves don't open while boiling. Finish rolling all leaves and fill the dutch oven or pan. I had to use one of each because I had so many. Fill the pan with enough water to cover the leaves. Pour in the remaining lemon juice from 1 lemon. Drizzle a little olive oil over top.
Cover the leaves with a heat resistant plate. I used the bottom of a springform pan. Put a heavy weight on top of this, to keep the plate down. I used a glass pitcher full of water. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 1 hour. Monitor the cooking process frequently to be sure there is enough water in the pan. If you need to top off with extra water, do so, to avoid burning.
After an hour, remove the grape leaves with tongs and put on a serving plate. Squeeze a lemon over the cooked stuffed leaves for an light and fresh flavor. Serve as an appetizer at a party, or pack in your lunch for a treat. You will wow your friends!