| All credit for this article goes to Ellen’s Kitchen
Though I have made many dolmas, using my fresh grape leaves, I did not have the procedures or recipes written down. Ellen’s method was so similar to my process, I quote from her recipe website. Thank you Ellen.
Now, I knew those Greek grandmothers did not buy their leaves in the store, but I couldn’t find any directions for using fresh leaves. So, here I include real directions on how to use fresh leaves. Best gathered in early summer, when leaves are at their prime, fresh grape leaves are easy to gather, wash and blanch (place in boiling water for about 1 minute). They are then ready to receive that yummy dolma filling, cook….... and the rest is pure bliss.
Whether you are going to eat them fresh or preserve them, select young whole, medium leaves (small = too thin, large or sunburned = too tough) with a good light green color and no holes. Medium size is whatever that is for your plants; too small and they tear up, too big and they are TOUGH AND CHEWY. Drying out/ droughty conditions also toughen the leaves, they are tenderest and best when the water supply to the plants has been steady and sufficient.
Any type grape is OK. Get from unsprayed plants; most sprays are toxic, and regulations don’t count on anyone eating the leaves. About 1 1/2 pounds of fresh leaves are the same as 1 jar of preserved leaves.
To use or freeze fresh grape leaves
Blanch loose, a dozen at a time, by placing in strong salted boiling brine, 1 C. salt to 4 C. water. When you place in the leaves the boiling action will calm. Bring water back to a boil and then remove leaves immediately with a skimmer or pancake turner; and then plunge the leaves immediately into cold/ ice water. Drain, dry with paper towels or shake dry. Don’t omit this, it is done to set the color and also prevents enzyme action while freezing.
Use immediately, or stack in rolls of six, roll from the side and tie; wrap in airtight plastic and freezer bags. Use as soon as thawed- they don’t keep too well after freezing. These only last about six months in the freezer.
Pre-prep rice Soak the rice 10 minutes in hot water and drain, but don’t precook. Or else, fry the raw rice in olive oil for at least 5 minutes after you saute the onion.
Lenten/ vegetarian fillings, meat-free with rice, onion, pine nuts, currants - Traditionally served room temp or cold, with yogurt sauce. This makes about 70 rolls:
2 large onions, chopped fine or 1 cup of finely chopped gr onions & tops
1/4 C olive oil
1 C short grain rice, pre-prepped, see note above
1 t allspice, ground (or mix with cinnamon)
4-8 T finely chopped fresh dill and/or parsley
salt and pepper to taste
sliced lemon between layers
optional additions include:
1/4 C pine nuts or cooked split peas
1/4 C currants, raisins or chopped prunes
1/4 t ground saffron
Rice with onion and ground lamb or beef - Traditionally served warm or room temp with egg-lemon sauce. Cypriot/Greek style, about 60 rolls:
1 medium onion, chopped fine (sometimes I use a cup of finely chopped green onions and tops)
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 lb ground meat, lamb or beef
1/2 C rice, pre-prepped, see below
2-4 T fresh mint, finely chopped
2-4 T parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Persians, Lebanese and Greeks might add:
1/2 t cinnamon ground
Usual process: saute onion and green herbs very briefly, stir in soaked rice, raw meat and other ingredients. Place each leaf shiny side DOWN, stuff and roll. Use 1 tsp. to 1 T. stuffing depending on size of leaf- it expands slightly while cooking.
Stuffing and rolling
1. Stuff with shiny side down.
2. Trim stem off- it pokes a hole in the roll while cooking. If the center vein is very thick, some folks shave it down.
3. Most traditional to roll leaf from stem end to tip, after folding in the sides. But you can roll side to side if the center vein is too thick, it makes center vein easier to work around.
4. Place a small spoonful of prepared stuffing at the stem end of the leaf, roll about one half turn. Fold in the two sides. Continue rolling to the tip of the leaf. The package should be firm, but not tight, as the stuffing will expand while cooking.
5. Pack into cooking pan seam side down, just touching. Two or three layers is fine; it is very difficult to cook evenly if you make more than four layers of rolls.
You can bake, steam or microwave these. Aluminum foil or pot may discolor (darken) the leaves. For either method, line pan with open extra leaves to prevent sticking. Lebanese cooks sometimes use sliced tomatoes for this. Cover the top layer with other open leaves. You line the dish or pan with some torn leaves, place the rolled leaves with the seam side down in layers, no more than 4 layers deep. Cover with a few more loose leaves. Then put a heavy plate or lid right on top of the rolls to keep them in place. Finally, pour the hot water/broth and lemon juice or oil over the whole arrangement.
Bake: Cover tightly. Oven is preheated to 350 o. Pour on your 2-4 C broth/ water. 30-60 minutes, depending on size and whether the broth was hot when you started.
Steam: Put a small heavy plate over the top of the rolls to keep them in place. 60 rolls, 2-4 C broth or water, bring to simmer, lower heat, steam 40-60 minutes covered for usual small size, though it can take longer if the rolls are large or leaves tough. You can use the broth you drain off to make your sauce.
Microwave: Make 2 dozen at a time. Prepare the stuffing using the “saute the rice” method. Put the rolls in a SINGLE layer just touching each other in a 9x11 glass pan. Add 1 1/2 cups broth or water, cover tightly with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Microwave 10-12 minutes at 700 watts- if your oven is high wattage (1000 watts), reduce the power level to 70%.
All methods, cool in the broth, drain and serve. They keep about a week in the refrigerator. If you drain and chill them, you may want to pour a little olive oil and lemon juice over all.
Seasoning variations for the broth/ water: some cooks pour 1/4 -1/2 cup olive oil over the full pan after the broth is added, and some folks add 1/4 C lemon juice to the liquid, or slices of lemon between the layers.
Recipes for sauces
These sauces contain eggs and dairy products. They should be refrigerated immediately if not being served at once. They can be reheated.
Cucumber and yogurt:
2 C plain yogurt
1 large cucumber, grated and drained
1-2 T fresh dill or mint, chopped
2-3 cloves of fresh crushed garlic are sometimes added.
Mix together and let stand a few hours.
Egg and lemon, Greek style:
4 egg yolks, beaten till thick and lemony
4 T fresh lemon juice
2 T hot pan broth
Beat yolks, beat in lemon juice, carefully beat in enough hot broth to thicken slightly.
Egg and lemon, Cypriot style:
2 T butter
2 T flour
1 1/2 C chicken broth or lamb stock
1-2 T lemon juice
2 beaten eggs
salt and pepper to taste
Make just like a standard white sauce, mixing the eggs into the last half of the broth before you add it.
Traditionally served warm or room temp in portions of 3 to 5 small rolls with sauce for appetizers. A glass of retsina is a pleasant addition.
Refrigerate, covered, with a little olive oil to keep them moist, for up to 5 days.