Archive for December, 2017|Monthly archive page

Leaves of the vine and a glass of wine …

In Recipes on December 29, 2017 at 12:26 am

When I visit my parents place on the Bellarine Peninsula we often eat lunch outside, overlooking their mature grape vines. The time of the year when the vines are most attractive is around October, November and December, when they are in leaf. The leaves with their unusual shape and the light filtering through the mass of pale green are a beautiful sight. Whenever I see them I think of making dolmades but I have never gotten around to it.

Dolmades or dolmathes have been readily available in Melbourne for a long time. This is probably due to our large Greek polpulation (see Sometimes I hear a mermaid singing and More from the Greek diaspora in August 2011), the largest outside Greece apparently. The dolmades that you can buy ready-made vary in quality from the rather bad soggy ones you can get from the supermarket deli to quite delicious ones that can be bought from Greek restaurants. The Greeks claim to have invented the stuffed vine leaf though they are common in countries across the Middle East including Lebanon and Turkey.

The Greek story claims that these tasty rolled snacks, usually served with a Greek meze rather than as part of a main meal, were spread across the region, albeit inadvertently, by Alexander the Great. They claim that when Alexander besieged Thebes, food was so scarce that the locals ‘minced’ their meat and stuffed it into vine leaves to make it go further*. I like this story, it tells of another great dish born of necessity and of cooks trying to use what was easily available to them. I would argue that many of the world’s great dishes began in this way. The poor starving locals may then have discovered that the leaves impart their own unique flavour to the filling and that this was a dish worth serving even in more abundant times. With my profoundest apologies to any Greek readers out there, the dolmades or dolmasi I have made here are from a Turkish recipe in Ghillie Basan’s Classic Turkish Cooking. These ones do not contain meat but you could add 250 g of lamb mince when frying the onions and omit or halve the amount of pine nuts and currants if you wanted to include meat.

Vine leaves stuffed with currants and pine nuts

Dolna served


24-30 fresh or preserved vine leaves, washed and prepared

For the filling

225 g short grain rice

2 onions (finely chopped)

2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

2 tbs olive oil

1 scant tbs sugar

2 tbs currants, soaked in water

2 tbs pine nuts

1/2 tsp all spice

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbs each fresh parsley, mint and dill (finely chopped)

For the cooking liquid

150 ml water

2 tbs olive oil

2 tbs lemon juice

Dolma filling


# Soak the rice in warm salted water for 10 mins, drain and rinse

# Prepare the filling. Soften the onions and garlic in the olive oil. Stir in the sugar, currants and pine nuts. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the spices, rice, salt and pepper. Cover with just enough water and bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the liquid is almost absorbed. Mix in the herbs with a fork, cover the pan and leave for five minutes. The rice should still have a bite to it.

Dolma construction

# Place a few vine leaves in the bottom of a wide pan. Lay the rest of the vine leaves on a flat surface and place spoonfuls of the rice mixture in the middle of each. Fold the near end of each vine leaf over the mixture, then the side flaps o seal it in, and roll it all up into a thin cigar. Arrange the stuffed vine leaves in the pan, seam side down and tightly packed, and pour over the cooking liquid. Place a plate on top to prevent them from unravelling, and cover with a lid. Bring the liquid to the boil, reduce the heat and cook gently for one hour. Leave to cool in the pan and serve cold with wedges of lemon.

Dolma in the pot

* From ‘Stuffed Grape Leaves, Greek Style’ by Fred Perretti, New York Times, 18/12/2017

** For more on dolma see Middle Eastern Food: You say dolma and I say dolmeh in April 2017