Welcome to July. Our outdoor thermometer reads 14ºC this morning. That's only about 55ºF. It's supposed to be even chillier tonight. The good news is that the afternoon high temperature yesterday got up to 65ºF.
Since it wasn't too hot to turn on the oven (we weren't really tempted to use the outdoor barbecue grill!) we decided the time was right to make a big batch of dolmas, or stuffed grapevine leaves.
We had all the ingredients, including leaves from the grapevines in our back yard. Those vines produce a lot of pretty leaves but not very many grapes. We make dolmas nearly every year in June.
Here's very green grape leaf. I picked more than 50 of them from the six or seven plants in our yard.
The first step is to blanch the leaves in boiling salted water for 3 or 4 minutes to make them limp. Pliable might be a better word. Then cut off the stems.
I blanched the leaves on Thursday, doing batches of six and using two pans of boiling water. Then I put them in cold water to stop the cooking, drained them, and arranged them in a bowl to keep them in the fridge overnight.
The next day, I made a filling for the leaves. We had 600 grams of what is called « farce fine » in France. It's a mixture of pork and veal, finely ground with seasonings. Plain ground pork or beef would be good too. I added about a cup of rice that I had soaked in cold water, some chopped onion and garlic, herbs (oregano and mint), some lemon juice and zest, and a beaten egg.
The first step in making the stuffed leaves is to spread a leaf out flat on a work surface. Put about a tablespoon of stuffing on the middle of the leaf. In the past, we've made a filling of rice (or millet), herbs, raisins, pine nuts, and spices for dolmas.
Roll the bottom flaps of the leaf over the stuffing, then fold up the sides. Roll the leaf into a little log shape and place it so that the leaf tip is underneath. We both worked on stuffing the leaves so it didn't take very long. Pack the rolled leaves into a pan or baking dish so that they won't come undone as the cook
We had two layers in the pan, and I placed thin slices of lemon over the first layer before putting on the second layer of rolled leaves. Lemon is a very Greek flavor. You could put thin slices of tomato instead if you wanted. Pour in enough chicken broth to cover the leaves and bake them in a slow oven for about an hour, adding enough broth or water to keep them from drying out. And don't let them boil hard.
Serve them hot, warm, or even cold. See the photo at the top of this post.