Hot diggity dog.
Greek Easter Part II really took it out of me. The first week following the best day of the year had me too tired to leave the couch. Eventually the physical exhaustion of cooking for four days straight passed, but the mental exhaustion stuck– so May’s menu in Casa Kef has been a rotating cast of frozen peas and three second cauliflower. Luckily, I woke up this morning to a beautiful day, a fridge full of veggies, and a renewed interest in the fate of those vegetables– so we’re back!
Today I want to talk about dolmades– they’ve been on my bucket list since the days we thought the world might end. There is a moment each year during The Big Greek Easter Grocery Shop that I stumble upon the jarred grape leaves section (yes, you can use jarred grape leaves–it’s what my Aunt Stella does!) and I say to myself, “You know what, Chef Kef? Why don’t you just buy one jar and if there’s any extra time on Sunday you can use them for a dish even your incredibly old-school great aunt says is a pain in the ass?”
…IF THERE’S EXTRA TIME???? What the hell do I think this is? A leisurely afternoon of unscheduled culinary exploration? Not only is there never any time left over, there have been a good many years where I have not even showered before the first guest’s arrival. So, unsurprisingly, not so much as a single dolma has ever graced my Greek Easter table. The road to this host’s hell is paved with unused jars of grape leaves.
Until this year. It was about 1130 PM on Saturday night. My house was literally (read: very much not figuratively) packed to capacity- BFKef was lawyering into the wee hours in the bedroom, ThisIsYourLifeNowKef had annexed (okay–xanxed) the couch, PinchinaKef was on the air mattress desperately trying to avoid Oliver Tambo’s nocturnal antics, every other available space was covered in food or food prep, and 20 dismembered tomatoes were precariously perched while they awaited their filling (which was being blended in the bathroom to reduce late-night noise) and their transformation from fleshless fruit to amazing, show-stopping yemista.
That’s when I came up with what I think is the most brilliant idea to hit Greek-American-cooks-who-are-in-way-over-their-head in a long, long time– instead of trying to find the “extra” time to make filling for the dolmades, why don’t I just use the totally delicious leftover yemista filling to stuff the damn grape leaves? Suddenly, I wasn’t just a woman who tries annually to defy the laws of time and space for a little Greek gathering. When that little lightbulb went on over my head, I was Ben Franklin in the rainstorm, standing steadfast in the chaos clinging to an idea that would either kill me or endear me to the people forever. Or something like that.
The great news is that the dolmadakia were DELICIOUS (oh, and also that electricity is real and ol’ Benny didn’t go up in smoke). The bad news is that I didn’t make nearly enough of them (or that JetSet ate too many) and that I haven’t yet figured out the proportions for a recipe that doesn’t require you to make a round of yemista. But there are worse things in this world.
Chef Kef’s Lightning-Strike Dolmadakia
- leftover stuffing from this yemista recipe (probably about 2 cups, more or less)
- about 1.5 cups of the cooking liquid from the yemista (the juice that oozes out into the pan while baking them)
- 8 oz jar of grape leaves (I used the Orlando brand this year)
- juice of 2 lemons
- a wide (and preferrably deep) saute pan
1. Remove grape leaves from the jar and carefully unroll but do not try and separate. Bring a pot filled with about 4inches of water to a slow boil- you need enough water so the whole wad of grape leaves can float. Once boiling, put your unrolled grape leaves in the water as one unit and let simmer for about 5 minutes to soften. This will make it easier to separate them.
2. Remove from water and pat the whole wad dry. Gently separate leaves one by one and lay grape leaves on a work surface SHINY SIDE DOWN with the widest part as the bottom and the “fingers” the top. If there are any stems left at the bottom, cut them out with kitchen scissors (a lot of jarred leaves come with stems removed so if you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry).
3. Place about 2 TBS of filling at the center of the base, near where the stem was. Fold the bottom edge over the filling, then both sides toward the middle, and then roll up to complete… if you need a visual, this is a great video (folding starts about 3:30), this is a great photo tutorial, or just watch the good people at your local Chipotle fold a burrito. We want it snug but not as tight as possible because the rice will swell as it cooks. Give each dolma a light squeeze to secure the roll. Repeat until you run out of leaves, filling, or both.
4. Arrange the stuffed leaves in a wide, deep pan (or dutch oven, if you have it)– I just used my widest saute pan. Place them seam side down and they MUST be in a single layer. Every Greek person in the world will tell you to arrange them in a spiral to fit the most– we did invent geometry, after all. Pour the broth and lemon juice into the pan until it reaches halfway up the stuffed leaves. Cover and simmer low for 40 minutes, or until tender when you stick a form in them.