The grape vine is probably one of the most used plants in Greek home cooking. Nearly every part of the plant is used, except for the roots. In late Spring, the fresh stems and shoots are pickled in a spiced vinegar and used in salads or served on its own as as a meze (see this link to Kalofagas for a very moving blog post about how Peter's papou made pickled grape vine shoots).
The shoots can also be used to make a rice pilaf and the juice from the unripe grapes (agourida), which is very similar to verjuice, is used in areas of Greece as a citrus alternative in early summer when lemons are not available. There is also grape molasses called (petimezi) - I have a fresh bottle in my store cupboard which I cannot wait to use. Then there is of course Greek wine - not only just for drinking but a classic ingredient used in much Greek cooking - such as kokora krasato, a summer favourite of rooster slow cooked in fresh tomato and wine. Even after pruning, the dry vine cuttings are collected and used for cooking lamb.
In this post, I am sharing the recipe for freshly made dolmádes (ντολμάδες), stuffed vine leaves with meat, rice and herbs - once you try freshly made dolmádes you will never go near the briney canned ones again!
This dish is cooked throughout Greece in spring and early summer with fresh vine leaves or all year long with preserved ones. If you have a very abundant grape vine, now is a great time to preserve your vine leaves to use throughout the rest of the year (see the link here for how to preserve grape vine leaves). Alternatively, you can buy preserved grape vine leaves in many Greek grocers - if you are in Sydney or Melbourne, see my list of where to shop.
In summer, using fresh vine leaves, I prefer to make dolmádes with a tomato sauce, instead of the more common avgolemono. I tend to make the avglolemono in winter, when using preserved vine leaves. In the filling mixture, I also use two types of rice to prevent it becoming gluggy - a mix of half Carolina rice and half kitrino or bonnet rice (for more information of Greek rice varieties please see this link). If you don't have access to Greek rice, short grain rice will work fine.
Summer dolmádes (ντολμάδες)
About 60 fresh vine leaves or 250g pack of vacuum packed or bottled brined vine leaves1 kg beef mince
1 large red onion, grated
1/4 cup of currants or sultanas
1/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted
½ bunch dill, finely chopped
2 tbsp dried spearmint or mint
1/2 cup Carolina rice
1/2 cup of kitrino or bonnet rice
Salt and pepper, to taste
150 ml olive oil
⅓ cup water
2 cups freshly grated tomato
2 tbsp butter, diced
1. If using fresh vine leaves, blanch the vine leaves in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then refresh in batches of cold water to cool.
2. If using preserved leaves, remove from the packaging and let them stand for half an hour in a basin with cold water, then unroll them in the water. Rinse them well and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Combine mince, onion, currants/sultanas, pine nuts, dill, dried spearmint, rice, salt, pepper, 100 ml olive oil and enough water to knead the mixture until well combined.
4. Coat the bottom of a pot with a 100ml of the oil and cover with 4 grape leaves.
5. Set the remaining grape leaves on a work surface, vein side up and stalk end towards you. Working with one leaf at a time, flatten the leaf and place about 1 tsp. rice mixture in the center. Fold the bottom stalk end of leaf over filling, fold in sides, and then roll up completely.
6. Place the rolled leaves seam side down in the pot. Place close together, in layers, so they don’t unravel.
7. Season with salt and pepper and pour over fresh tomato sauce, ½ cup water and remaining olive oil. Top with diced butter. Cover them with a small plate to keep them submerged; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until rice and meat filling is cooked and tender, about 40 minutes.
8. Remove the plate and serve dolmades with some of the remaining tomato liquid poured over as a sauce - to be savoured with a rustic crusty bread.