A Classic Ottoman Recipe (hopefully using your very own grape leaves)
I married my husband Nezih 31 years ago, and I not only fell in love with this cute Turkish guy way back then, but also with his culture, especially, Turkish food. Through the years, my mother-in-law has served up some incredible dishes, and they are always very home-grown feeling and delectable tasting. Dolmas are the sort of food most Turks grew up on, and are considered ‘comfort foods’.
Do you grow grapes? If so, make these classic grape-leaf Dolmas! They are delicious and fairly simple to make, and feels so rewarding if you can use your own (or your neighbor’s) grape leaves for Dolmas. A simple brine and a little time is all you need, and the favor and texture is far superior to those leaves bought on the shelves at the international market.
You can really stuff anything and call it dolma in Turkey, but the most popular are grape leaf Dolmas. The word Dolma, from the Turkish verb Dolmak, means "to be filled," referring to many stuffed foods from grape leaves to stuffed tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplants.
Here is how you can make some Dolmas at home using your own grape leaves.
The first step should be throughout mid-spring when your grapes are throwing the vines and leaves, start collecting leaves that are uniform and consistent. My preference is leaves that are approximately 5” across. The reason we do this mid-spring is so they are still tender but hardy enough to brine and roll into the dolma shapes.
Harvest approximately 60 leaves per 8 oz jar. The recipe below, which includes the preparation of the leaves, as well as the filling are for approximately 60 Dolmas.
Preserved Grape Leaves
60 grape leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup boiling water
Step 1: Harvest and clean the grape leaves
Pick 60 leaves at the appropriate size. Rinse each leaf thoroughly under cool water Divide the 60 leaves into 3 piles of 20 and roll them like a cigar.
Step 2: Prepare the brine
Bring 1 cup water to a boil and add salt, stir until dissolved.
Step 3: Pack the jar and brine
Place the rolls of leaves in a clean and sterilized jar Pour the hot brine over the leaves and screw on the lid. Let the jar cool, and then place it into the refrigerator, and it will be ready for use in two weeks.
The grape leaves will keep refrigerated for at least a year.
Rice Filling for Dolmas (Vegetarian)
approx. 60 grape leaves
1/2 C olive oil
6 T lemon juice
1 1/2 C water
Lemon wedges to serve
For the filling:
3 C. slightly undercooked white rice (not Basmati), salted and lightly buttered
3/4 C. dried Currants
9 oz. chopped Pine Nuts
4 Scallions, finely chopped
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/4 t. Allspice
8 T very finely chopped fresh Parsley
2 T very finely chopped fresh Cilantro
2 T very finely chopped fresh Dill
2 T Olive Oil
Zest of 1 Lemon
Salt & Pepper
Rinse the grape leaves and place them in a heatproof bowl. Pour enough boiling water to cover them and soak for 5 minutes. Drain well.
Add cooked rice to a large bowl and stir in Currants, Pine Nuts, Scallions, Spices, Herbs, and Lemon Zest. Mix well, add the olive oil and more if necessary. You want the rice mixture to be just starting to hold together. Season with Salt and Pepper.
Line the bottom of a large skillet with the thickest of the grape leaves.
Put a grape leaf on the work surface, bein-side upward, with the pointed end facing away from you. Put a small, compact roll of the stuffing at the base of the leaf. Fold up the bottom end of the leaf.
Fold in each side to overlap in the center. Roll up the leaf around the filling. Squeeze lightly in your hand. Continue this process with the remaining leaves.
Place the Dolmas in a single layer in the pan, seam-side down. If needed, you can stack them. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, and water and pour into the pan. This mixture should just cover the Dolmas.
Put a heatproof lid over the skillet and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the Dolmas to cool in the liquid.
Once cooled, remove from pan and serve chilled with lemon wedges.