Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grape leaves are ready by June to make dolmas

In June around the summer solstice, I took an early morning walk in the fields across the road, and followed a side path into a profusion of young goldenrod plants and trees festooned with wild grape vines. I quickly gathered a passel (30-40, that is) of big lush new grape leaves, to make a pile of dolmas for a solstice party that night.
Yep you don’t have to buy them at the $7.89 per half lb olive bar, you can make them yourself. I used to buy jars of preserved grape leaves, but this is more fun. I first posted about dolmas using wild grape leaves late last August, but by then the leaves are a tad leathery and not so succulent when cooked. So grab ‘em young (a good motto generally!). They are still fine in late July – I harvested a bunch on July 21 on the high ground above Fall Creek off Freese Road. The local hipster enviro camp counselors seem to be using the “forked dragon’s tongue” characteristic of the grape vine’s growing tendrils to help little kids identify this plant but heck, it’s just grape leaves, eh?! (other motto: “What could possibly go wrong?”).
I cooked the grape leaves in boiling water for 1-2 minutes until they turned from bright green to olive green – drained and let them cool.Cut off the stem ends. Reserve a few to cover the bottom of the dolmas simmer pan.
Anticipating a gluten free vegan crowd at the solstice party, I grabbed my ancient trusty “Middle Eastern Cookery” by Eva Zane (101 Productions, San Francisco, 1974) and went with her “Basics” dolmas stuffing recipe:
1 cup (white) rice soaked in cold water and drained.
¼ cup each currants and pine nuts (I had raisins and not-roasted almond slivers, used them instead – this is based on the Peggy Renwick principle of “substitute everything”).
1 cup finely minced green onions or 1 cup grated onion (me, 1 cup roughly chopped onion).
3 T minced (fresh, please) parsley.
2 T fresh chopped dill.
2 garlic cloves (Zane sez “optional,” I say “Nonsense”)
½ tsp allspice
Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir this all up. Place a grape leaf on towel or counter or plate (“dull side” up – I could not discern a dull side; they both work). Place 1 – 3 tsp of filling on the leaf (depends on the size of the leaf). Here are the directions I cannot seem to fully comply with: “Fold end of leaf over to cover filling, fold sides in and starting at stem end, roll carefully to form a firm cylinder about 2 inches long, depending on size of leaf.” My firm cylinders look more like tiny envelopes, but they work just fine. Do this for all the grape leaves, eh? 
You may have leftover stuffing. I cooked it in a saucepan w/added water and served as a side dish with certified gluten free tortilla chips and it was wolfed, reckon that should be deered, down.
Spread the “reserved” leaves on the bottom of a heavy saucepan, place the dolmas side by side across the bottom, then stack them up until all are, well, ya know, in place (my recipe lingo falters occasionally, here because I am way too self conscious about that foodie term “reserve”).

Sprinkle the layers with lemon juice if you have it. Add 1 cup water or stock (I added more as needed while it cooked – don’t want the dolmas to scorch), 3 T olive oil, and cover with a heavy plate, saucer or other simmer-proof item, to prevent the dolmas from unfolding while cooking. Cover and simmer over low heat, checking frequently, for about 1 hour. Test for tenderness (eat one). Remove from pan, cool, and place on a serving platter, garnish with parsley sprigs and lemon wedges if you got em. Serve with bowl of chilled yogurt (plain not sweetened), or not. They will all be eaten quickly.