The weather in the Bay Area this summer has been less than spectacular, inspiring headlines like "coldest July on record". Though the fog bank on the peninsula does burn off on most days (unlike San Francisco, where they've been buried under 2000 feet of it pretty much since June), temperatures are feeling more like fall than summer.
Yesterday was a particularly chilly day. I returned home from my morning pilates class to a clearing sky, but increasing wind. I decided to postpone the gardening and yard-related things I'd been planning to do outside in favor of spending the afternoon in the kitchen: an afternoon making dolmas.
Dolmas, also known as dolmades, are grape-leaf wrapped parcels of rice and herbs. Wikipedia taught me that dolma is a verbal known of the Turkish verb dolmak "to be stuffed", and means simply "stuffed thing". There are many stuffing variations: the base of the filling is typically composed of onions, long grain white rice, and herbs, with common additions of minced lamb or pine nuts and raisins. I decided to keep mine simple and go in a lemony-herby direction.
How exactly to make the dolmas was a bit of a discovery process. I read through a number of recipes - some from my cookbooks, some online. I was less concerned with the ingredients, more with the technique. One recipe called for a "weighted plate" to be placed on top of the dolmas as they cooked on the stovetop. Another had them baking in the oven. Pretty much each recipe I read had a slightly different approach.
I cobbled together my planned method by taking the bits and pieces I liked from a couple different recipes that sounded the most straightforward and crossed my fingers that I'd come out of this adventure with something edible. (I did!)
I also learned that there is a good deal of strategy involved in the grape-leaf-wrapping part. One recipe said to "roll it up like an eggroll", which proved to be much easier said than done: it is not easy to make a roll with something that is shaped like a leaf. The level of difficulty increases as the size of the leaf decreases and each roll is a slightly different challenge, depending on the configuration of the given leaf. By the 10th roll or so, however, I had crafted a method that seemed to work most of the time: place the rice filling (not too much!) on the bottom 1/3 of the leaf, fold the sides in first, then roll carefully, continuing to roll the sides in as you go.
I'm glad I chose yesterday for this indoor adventure. Today, the weather gods decided to play nice. The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky from the time I woke up, leading to a beautiful, warm day. I'm already feeling benefits from my first full week of dietary cleanse: during my run this morning, I felt more energetic and lighter on my feet. Onward to week #2, where my raw fruit and veggie intake will increase to 70% of my daily consumption. With the bounty I brought home with me from the farmers' market this afternoon, I'm ready to tackle it!
Makes about 30
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3/4 c. long grain white rice
3 Tbsp. fresh flat leaf parsley, minced
3 Tbsp. fresh mint, minced
the juice of 1 lemon
15 oz. jar grape leaves*
*You won't use them all, but if your jar is like mine, it will include a number of leaves that are too small or fragile to do anything with. This will allow you some room to pick and choose your dolma leaves.
Place grape leaves in a large bowl. Cover with cool water and let stand 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Saute onion until tender, about 8 minutes. Add rice. Stir and cook 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Add parsley, mint, and lemon juice to rice and stir to distribute. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool.
Drain grape leaves. Cut off stems. Lay out each leaf on work surface vein side up. Place a heaping tablespoon (vary as needed depending on size of leaf) of rice filling in each. Fold the sides of the leaf over the stuffing, then roll tightly into a package.
Line the bottom of a heavy 12-inch skillet or dutch oven with grape leaves (this will prevent sticking). Arrange dolmas seam-side down in pan (you will probably need two layers). Add water just to cover. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool. Transfer to a plate, cover and chill until ready to serve.
This is my 200th post to cole's kitch. Thank you to everyone who has been reading and please keep your comments coming - they inspire me to continue cooking and writing!