In Greece, it is said that the best cabbage is found after the first frost. My lovely mother in law was right on cue, making this classic Greek winter favourite, lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες) as the winter chill settled over Sydney this week.
If you love Greek food you would be no stranger to dolmades, made with vine leaves. The homemade version with avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce, not the ones in the can(!), are one of my all time favourite Greek dishes. However, grape vine leaves are best in season from late spring to early summer when tender leaves are plentiful.
Lahanodolmades are a lovely winter version of the regular vine leaf dolmades. Tender winter cabbage is filled with ground beef and rice and the dolmades are covered with a avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce. The avgolemono sauce is another great way to use the best fruit and vegetables in season - with all of the gorgeous citrus available at this time of year, particularly home-grown lemons. I was recently given a large bag of home-grown lemons as a gift, and they smell incredible. There is no comparison with store bought lemons, with their waxy coating inhibiting the beautiful lemon aroma.
I think my own Irish ancestry must hold at least some of the key to the reason why I love my mother in law's lahanodolmades so much. Cabbage is used so frequently in Irish cooking and I think my genes often crave it! You can understand why I was so thrilled to come home from work this week and find that my mother in law had left a lovely big warm bowl of lahanodolmades in my kitchen.
Mrs K recommends selecting a large cabbage for lahanodolmades. The whole head of the cabbage needs to be intact, but the leaves need to be rather loose. If you have any leftover cabbage you can make a number of other Greek dishes, including lahanorizo, a rice pilaf with cabbage.
Mrs K uses the same stuffing for her lahanodolmades that she uses to make regular dolmades. By way of comparison, her stuffing for yemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) is nearly always vegetarian, taking account of the need for "lightness" in summer cooking. If you wish to make a vegetarian version of the lahanodolmades, or for fasting, Mrs K suggests leaving out the meat from the stuffing mix and upping the herb quantity, using only a lemon-oil sauce and skipping the egg. And, for extra special occasions, Mrs K also suggests that you can add some pine nuts and currants to the meat stuffing (or the vegetarian one), perhaps even a pinch of cinammon. The other tip Mrs K offers is to always make your own ground meat, or select the meat for your butcher to mince. Mrs K never buys store made mince or ground meat.
Mrs K's Lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες)
For the rolls:
* 1 medium whole green cabbage
* 250 grams of ground beef (or lamb)
* 250 grams of ground pork
* 1 whole egg
* 3/4 cups of short-grain rice
* 3 stalks of fresh dill, finely chopped
* Salt and pepper to taste
* 1 medium onion, finely chopped
* 1 tablespoon of olive oil
* 3/4 cup of olive oil
* 1 onion, sliced in rings
* 2 medium carrots, sliced in thick rounds
* 2 stalks of celery (leaves only)
* water or vegetable or chicken stock
* 1 small dried chilli pepper
For the sauce:
* 2-3 eggs yolks
* 1 tablespoon of water
* juice of 2-3 lemons
* broth from the dish being cooked
Step 1. Remove the outer layers of the cabbage and discard. Turn the cabbage head over and using a sharp knife cut out as much of the core (stem) as you can.
Step 2. In a large pot, boil enough water to submerge the cabbage head. Boil the entire cabbage head until the leaves are tender and can be removed easily (about 15 mins).
Step 3. In a bowl, mix the ground beef, pork, egg, rice, dill, finely chopped onion, a little oil and water, and knead to mix thoroughly. Form into rounds, a little larger than golf balls and the roll out into small logs.
Step 4: Using the large outer leaves of the cabbage, lay them out flat and place the meat mixture in the leaf and roll up the cabbage leaf. Repeat.
Step 5: Using a large casserole pot, line the base with carrot and onion slices, celery leaves and any leftover cabbage leaves.
Step 6: Lay the stuffed cabbage rolls, fold side down, on top in snugly packed layers. Place an inverted plate on top to hold them down when cooking.
Step 7: Add water or stock to cover, the chilli pepper and bring to a boil. When boil is reached, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until the leaves are tender and the filling is cooked.
To make the avgolemono sauce:
Step 1: A few minutes before the cabbage is done, make the avgolemono sauce. Whisk the egg yolks and a tablespoon of water.
Step 2: Stir in 1/2 cup of liquid from the pot and lemon juice whisking until smooth (you can add some cornflour if you would like a thicker sauce).
Step 3: Remove the plate, remove cabbage from heat and pour in the egg-lemon sauce. Hold pot by the handles and shake gently to distribute.
Step 4: Serve warm with a few spoonfuls of the sauce over the cabbage.