I believe in Greek kitchen preparing stuffed vine leaves is the highest art of cooking – if you know how to do them!
I have tried a lot of Dolmades until now, but Mama Marikas’, my beloved mother-in-law, is making the very best you’ll ever get. 86 years of age by now she still wakes up 4.00 a.m. in the morning to roll up vine leaves for lunch! And she does those small, tiny Dolmades which have half the length of my small finger!
The best Dolmades you will always make from fresh vine leaves. In Spring, when the new leaves are growing, my brother-in-law is sent by his mother to collect some for her. He is collecting the soft new ones, not larger than the saucer of an Espresso cup, as the larger the leaves get the harder they are. Later the year she is buying them from the market next to her house where they are sold laid in a special brine. Nowadays you also can find them in the big supermarkets in glasses but I do not recommend those as they do not really taste good!
Canned or in most restaurants you get stuffed vine leaves filled just with rice. Mama Marika has learned it from her future mother-in-law when she moved into her husband-to-be house at age 16. She is preparing them with vegetables and rice filling. You can make Dolmades vegetarian style or also with minced meat.
If you do not have the chance to find fresh vine leaves, always wash the leaves in lots of water to remove the taste of the brine. Fresh leaves or not, you will have to pre-cook them for a few minutes and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
What you need:
Appr. 250-500 gr Vine leaves (the amount is depending on the amount of the filling)
1 large aubergine
2 medium courgette
1 medium onion
2 large tomatoes
1 canned tomato (400 gr)
2 cups of rice (for Risotto)
some dried spearmint
the juice of one lemon
a pinch of sugar
1½ cup of Olive Oil
250 gr minced meat (optional)
How to prepare:
Wash all vegetables and cut into small pieces. In a large bowl add the vegetables, the canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika powder, spearmint, lemon juice, sugar and 1 cup of olive oil. Mix everything with a hand blender until mashed.
Tip from Mama Marika: dip your finger into the mash to taste if there is enough salt or if it needs some more spices. When you like the taste it will be good then. Always add a pinch of sugar when you use tomatoes to take away the acidity.
Add the rice and the minced meat (optional) and mix well.
How to stuff vine leaves:
Lay one vine leave in front of you with the tip pointing away from you. Add appr. one tablespoon of filling on the end of the leaf. Fold up first the one side of the leaf over the filling then the other. Lift up the bottom of the leaf and roll the leaf up to the top.
Place the ready Dolmades side by side in a pot. Repeat until all filling is used.
Place a flat dinner plate of the size of the pot upside down on top of the Dolmades. The plate serves the purpose to hinder the vine leaves from floating while cooking.
Add as much water as necessary to just cover the Dolmades. Add ½ cup of olive oil. Close the pot with a lit and cook the Dolmades on medium to low heat for approximately 30-45 minutes or until the rice is soft.