20 June 2013

Dolmas — Greek stuffed grapevine leaves

We have a row of grapevines in our back yard. They're table grapes of some kind. They're planted in the shade of several trees and I think they don't get enough sun. Therefore they don't produce very many grapes, and the grapes that do form never really ripen — they're small and sour. The vines were there when we bought the house, and we are slowly letting them die out.

A fresh grapevine leaf...
So the vines produce almost no good grapes, but plenty of nice green leaves appear on the plants in the spring. In a wet year like this one, the leaves are expecially beautiful and tender. We don't ever treat the vines with any chemicals of any kind, so our grape leaves are completely organic. We eat them.

...and one that's been blanched

The way you eat the leaves is to make “dolmas” — grapevine leaves rolled up around a little ball of stuffing. You can make a stuffing of meat, or just use rice. In fact, now we know that you can use millet in place of the rice, and it's delicious. What makes it delicious is a combination of flavor ingredients that includes olive oil, onion, garlic, raisins, mint, parsley, and lemon juice.

Blanched leaves soaking in cold water
Yesterday morning, before it started raining (again), I went out and cut about 40 nice green leaves off the grapevines. I washed them well in water and then blanched them six or eight at a time in boiling water. It takes only a minute or two for the leaves to soften and change color in the boiling water. Then they get plunged into a big basin of cold water to stop the cooking.
The millet-raisin-mint stuffing

Meanwhile, you cook a batch of rice or millet (or some other grain: quinoa, bulgur wheat...). The stuffing for three dozen or so dolmas requires about 200 grams (1 cup) of millet or rice and 40 cl (1½ cups) of water or chicken broth. You want the grain just partially cooked, so it doesn't need more water than that. First, sauté some onion and garlic along with the raw grain in olive oil, and when the onion is transparent add the liquid.

When the rice or millet has absorbed all the liquid, turn off the heat and stir in about a quarter of a cup of the little raisins that we call "currants" and which are really raisins de Corinthe (or use chopped raisins) and about the same amount of finely chopped fresh mint (or some other herb). Add salt and pepper (and, optionally, a pinch of crushed hot red pepper) and the juice of a lemon. Stir it all together and let it cool down. Save the squeezed lemon because the rind will cook with the dolmas later.

Roll up the leaf around a lump of the millet or rice stuffing.

When the stuffing is cool enough to work with, spread a blanched grapevine leaf out on a work surface and put a lump of the stuffing mix on it (for the best appearance, lay the leaves out with the underside up). Fold the side "flaps" of the leaf over the stuffing and then roll the whole thing up into a little log shape. Repeat this operation about three dozen times.

Millet-stuffed grapevine leaves ready to be cooked

Arrange the stuffed leaves on a thin film of olive oil in a shallow pan so they they are packed in enough to hold together as they cook. Pour on enough hot water to just barely cover the dolmas (or even less — you can add more during the cooking.) Chop up the lemon rind and scatter the pieces over the top, along with some branches of parsley and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Put the pan in a hot oven (200ºC or 400ºF) and after 15 minutes turn the oven down to 325ºF or 160ºC. Let the dolmas cook slowly, covered, for another 45 minutes. Add water as needed so that the leaves won't stick to the pan.

The dolmas after an hour in the oven

After an hour in the oven, during which the stuffing and the leaves will finish cooking, take the pan out and let it cool. Then take the dolmas out and put them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours (or a day or two). Serve them cold as an hors-d'œuvre or appetizer. They are good with a yogurt or cream sauce made with grated cucumber and more mint (or dill) and lemon juice.


  1. A day or two?!
    You must be jesting...

    We love dolmades...
    but I've never tried making them...
    I think I will now.

    Just need to blag some of Susan's vine leaves...

  2. I made our first batch of the year the other day when we had vegetarian friends visiting. I had to blag leaves from my friends J&A as mine are so slow getting to a decent size this year.

  3. Tim, thanks for the word "blag" — never heard it before. I'd say "scrounge" some leaves. Beg, steal, or borrow. Or "con" somebody out of some.

    Susan, I'm surprised you didn't point out how the blanched leaves are a yucky kaki color (like properly cooked collard greens).

  4. What a good idea to use millet. I know it grows locally, but I've not seen locally sourced millet anywhere. There's an organic fair in Clion sur Indre coming up where there's usually a display of different types of millet.

  5. They look yummy and healthy Ken....I don't think I could wait a couple of hours or days to eat them.

  6. Hello PG, I found millet at the Planète Verte organic grocery in Montrichard. I thought it was pricey, but we really like millet so I bought it anyway.

    Virginia, our friend Jean and a friend of hers are coming over for apéritifs ce soir, so we'll have the dolmas with some rosé wine.

  7. Ken: That would be khaki and pronounced 'car key'...

  8. Not in my dialect, Susan. It's [`kack-ee] and it's beige, not olive-drab. Get used to it LOL

    1. That's not dialect but accent (the spelling is non-negotiable...); oddly your pronunciation is U.S. English, but your preference for "beige" over "olive drab" is British English...

    2. When does accent become dialect? When new or different terms, grammar, and syntax become apparent. Accent is just dragged along behind all that. As for spelling, that is always negotiable. Center? Theater? Neighbor? Color? And all those words ending in -ize rather than -ise? BTW, who are you?

  9. Sometimes I wonder if we Yanks are speaking the same English as our forefathers...those dolmas are beautiful and you didn't have to blaG anyone's garden to get the grape leaves.

    BTW my spelling checker went nuts when I tried to type blag the first time.

  10. Hi Evelyn, I'm with you -- the Brits/Aussies use words I can't even imagine exist, or recognize. It would be easier to understand them if they would just speak French! 'Cocky' -- weird LOL!

    Oh well, I didn't come to France so that I could learn British English.

  11. Ken

    We made this recipe the other day : http://www.onceuponachef.com/2013/01/peruvian-style-roast-chicken-with-green-sauce.html

    and we were left with half of the "green sauce" which we stored in the fridge. This sauce is also good with dolmas , which I bought at the Lebanese store . They sell both kins , with and without meat.

    BTW: I can vouch for those Ken's home made dolmas :-)

  12. I've had dolmas once and didn't love them, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if I blagged some of yours, I'd love them :)

  13. Your fresh dolmas look delicious. I've never liked the canned ones (or "tinned" as you have started referring to such products as, Ken). BTW, despite your good intentions, your British English is getting better and better every day you spend in France!

  14. Hi Dean, c'est terrible, n'est-ce pas, comme on se laisse corrompre par ces gens qui prétendent parler le vrai anglais ! Nous, on est anglais, mais pas du tout British !

  15. Thanks for that recipe, Beav'. I see it in our immediate future.

  16. Dean and Ken, lol-mdr. What about some franglais to spice up everything?

  17. Blag - car key - I learn so many different things on this blog! I've only had dolmas once - with my Armenian friends in L.A., however, your recipe sounds easy enough - if and when I can find some millet around here! Previously, obviously my mistake, I had thought there was lamb involved...

  18. Mary, you could certainly make dolmas with lamb, but the meatless ones are good too. When it comes to 'car key' I'm pretty sure you wouldn't pronounce the R of 'car' -- kah-kee, or something like that, instead of our kack-ee. Who'd have thought?

  19. Ken

    In two WE, long one for Canada day, I will make the chicken again but , in lieu of mayonnaise and sour cream, I will use Greek ( or balkan) yogurt. Will let you know whether it is worthwhile.

  20. CHM, Gor Blimey! Quelle bonne idée de mélanger les deux langues. Vous avez bloody raison!

  21. Wonderful, thank you!

    Best wishes

  22. Too much work. I need a nap now.


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