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Dolmathes (Meat-Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves)

Bette McDevitt, North Side freelance food writer

I loved the stuffed grape leaves from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on the North Side. The women in the church made their recipes in a community setting, talking as they sat around the tables, rolling and chopping. I have a nice memory of that. My son and his family from Vermont arrived in time to enjoy eating them and told me they were perfect! The grape leaves became part of a picnic luncheon during a rafting trip down the Youghiogheny.

Dolmathes (Meat-Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves)

  • 1 jar grape leaves in brine (about 35-40 leaves) -- these can be bought at a Greek specialty shop
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 or 4 scallions, thinly sliced, including some of the green tops ( 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 whole tomatoes from a can, drained with the juices reserved (fresh is OK, too)
  • 3/4 cup raw converted white rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons reserved liquid from tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Carefully remove the brined grape leaves from the jar. (They are packed in rolls resembling fat cigars.) Spread leaves in a single layer in a large shallow pan. Add enough boiling water to cover the leaves generously and set aside to soak and soften until the water is cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by combining all ingredients except chicken broth and lemon juice. Use hands to mix thoroughly.

Rinse the leaves with cool water and blot dry with paper towels. Snip the woody stem from the bottom center of each leaf. Lay each leaf flat, vein side up, on work surface, overlapping bottom of the leaf slightly where the stem has been removed.

Place the filling about 1/2 inch up from the bottom and roll the leaf up over filling about halfway. Fold in the sides and continue rolling -- not too tightly -- to make a packet.

Lay any extra or torn leaves at the bottom of a heavy saucepan. Lay the stuffed grape leaves, folded side down, fitting them together neatly next to one another. When the bottom of the pan is full, begin another layer and continue until all leaves are used.

Mix the chicken broth and lemon juice and pour over the stacked grape leaves just until covered, adding a little water if necessary. Place a heavy plate slightly smaller than the diameter of the saucepan on top to keep them from rolling and unwrapping during cooking.

Cook at a slow simmer for about one hour or until the rice is tender and meat is cooked. If serving at room temperature, put dolmathes in container drizzled with olive oil to keep them from drying out.

Serve with lemon wedges and drizzled with olive oil. Makes 15 to 20 packets.

Note from Joyce Athanasious: "Dolmathes are a tedious and time-consuming task but one that your guests will appreciate! The good news is they can be prepared a day or two ahead of time and rewarmed or served at room temperature. They can also be frozen and reheated. Dolmathes can be served alone as an appetizer meze or as part of an appetizer plate with feta cheese, olives and pita bread or use them to decorate a traditional Greek salad."

Thursday, January 02, 2003

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