Dolmadakia

Dolma refers to stuffed leaves in the general sense. There are versions with meat (dolmades, typically with lamb and beef), and some without (dolmadakia, which has rice). I've seen dolmades at many a Greek restaurant, and the flavors and fillings have been quite different regularly. I've had a few, and the meat-filled were always my favorite. A friend of mine picked up some rice filled ones in a can at a point and the disappointment was real. She loved 'em, but it just wasn't my thing.

At the same time as that cold dolmadakia encounter, I picked up some grape leaves. We were in Tarpon Springs, a little Greek fishing village near Tampa, Florida. It's a cute little spot right on the Gulf coast, with some Greek restaurants and shops. We were there a typically hot Florida day with bright blue skies and the smell of salty sea air. I can't think of a better place to enjoy Greek food.

I had no plans when I bought them, though dolma seemed like a pretty obvious choice. It wasn't until another friend was over and suggested we give these a try that they got some action.

We viewed a few recipes before making up out minds on what to throw in the filling since dolma was new in my kitchen. It was clear across the board that a good rinse and even some soaking of the grape leaves in fresh water was a must. There were quite a few crammed in that jar, and several tore while I finnagled them out. But that's to be expected when a bunch of fragile, easily tearable leaves are tightly stuffed in a jar with liquid. I moved them into a big bowl of water while I made the filling. They were already soft straight out of the jar and didn't require any boiling.



The starting point was sauteing some onion and garlic with some olive oil until the garlic was fragrant. Though not pictured here, I finished the filling by adding some fresh chopped grape tomatoes, oregano, dill, parsley, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. I made some white rice in a separate pot.


It really only needed to cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes had softened a bit, and then I mixed in the rice and got ready to stuff some leaves.


I laid out a grape leaf with the vein side up and the smooth side down. It's obvious when you have one which way to go. I then plopped a little bit of filling right in the center. Not too much, though, because you've gotta roll it up.

The rolling part is just a matter of folding the left and ride side over the filling, then rolling it all together toward the top to create a tightly wrapped stuffed leaf. Got that? Left, right, then roll it up.


I used all of the whole leaves to make as many rolls as I could, using up almost all the filling. They weren't looking so bad for a couple of first timers.


The remaining leaves were laid on top, which is a great way to use them an keep moisture in. I then poured water over it all and covered the pan with tin foil before baking.


After 45 minutes, the leaves were darker in color and a few of my top layer ones were even crispy. The water had soaked in and evaporated perfectly.


And there you have it, dolmadakia.


Though they took a little bit to bake, these were actually a rather easy recipe. Many Greek recipes are overwhelming due to the multiple step processes and delicate ingredients (i.e., phyllo), but this one was a quick Saturday afternoon side dish. The filling definitely had a dill and lemon taste, but I'd be a liar if I didn't tell you that these were my favorite dolmades yet. Of course, the beauty of home cooking is the freedom to add or subtract ingredients as you see fit, and in this I nixed the pine nuts and a few other bits but added oregano, which felt appropriate in the recipe. For a veggie side dish or snack, this one wins.

Dolmadakia Recipe

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 whole onion)
3 tablespoons garlic
1/2 cup lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
3/4 cup chopped fresh grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried dill
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup white rice
1 jar grape leaves (16 ounces)
1 cup water

Instructions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Remove grape leaves from jar and soak in water while preparing filling. Boil rice in a saucepan. To make the filling, heat olive oil in a large saucepan and saute onion and garlic for about 5 minutes over medium heat, until garlic is fragrant. Stir in lemon juice, tomatoes, dill, oregano, parsley, salt, and pepper and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Stir in rice and remove from heat.

To fill leaves, lay out grape leaf shiny side down and add about a tablespoon or two of filling. Fold sides of grape leaf over filling then roll up into a tubular shape. Add to baking dish. Continue until all filling is used, then top with any remaining grape leaves or pieces. Add water to pan and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until water is gone from pan.

adapted from dolmades

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