Dolmades – or stuffed grape leaves – need not be intimidating. They’re really quite simple to make, just a tiny bit tedious - or at least to me they are. So when I get them, I savor them all the more. They can be really any kind of fruit or vegetable wrapped around a rice, herb or meat filling, but I have always opted for grape leaves. I used to have to buy them in specialty markets, but preserved grape leaves can now be found on most any grocery store’s shelf, either in the condiment aisle near olives or perhaps in the international section. I long to have fresh leaves from my own grape vines, but for now, bottled leaves it is. This recipe makes enough filling for 30-40 dolmades, but you will invariably find many of the leaves in the jar hopelessly mangled or too small for your liking. Or, perhaps like me, you end up tearing a few trying to smooth them out. The rest of the ingredients are things you probably already have at home. I like fresh herbs better than dried, but on this day I did not have fresh dill, and the dolmades turned out delicious anyway.
I could eat these for breakfast, lunch or dinner, hot or cold, with or without the dipping sauce. Perfect for any occasion, these easy dolmades are sure to impress.
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
30-40 large bottled grape leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
2 cups hot cooked brown rice or quinoa
½ cup dried currants
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried dill
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cumin
For sauce, combine first four ingredients in a small bowl, cover and chill for an hour or longer.
Carefully remove grape leaves from jar. Typically, they are rolled and folded somewhat. It helps to drain liquid first. (Most recipes say to rinse the brine off, and some even advise to cook or steam a little first to avoid a bitter taste and toughness. But I prefer to leave it as I like the flavor and have never had a problem with mine not being tender.) Unroll and separate leaves. (Really do this first, because it you try to separate them between filling each leaf or each few leaves, you will get frustrated – which will probably lead to leaf damage.) If you have a large enough work space, lay several out flat with the smooth side down, ready to stuff. If you have to work one at a time, that’s fine too; it will just take a little longer.
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté onion for 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for a minute more. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and the remaining ingredients (rice through cumin). Allow to cool slightly.
Now you are ready to stuff.
Place a small rounded spoonful of filling in the lower center of the leaf. Fold one side over the filling then the other and roll up from the bottom tightly – tucking in the sides as you go (if necessary). Place seam side down in a baking dish coated with olive oil. Drizzle remaining lemon juice over dolmades. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve hot or cold. Enjoy!