Grape leaves have been used in Greek cooking for millennia. In ancient times they were also used for medicinal purposes to stop bleeding and inflammation and to reduce pain.
These days they are most commonly used to make a well-known Greek appetiser, dolmades, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and herbs, and sometimes with pine nuts, mashed broad beans, lentils or meat.
I recently discovered a fun new challenge on the Better With Veggies blog – Meatless Mondays A to Z. Every Monday fortnight an ingredient is selected, beginning with a letter of the alphabet, and participants are asked to create a vegetarian recipe using that ingredient. So starting with "A", the first ingredient is "Avocado".
I thought it might be fun to participate in the challenge so for the last few days I've been thinking about what Greek dish I can come up with that would be acceptable with avocado.
Everyone says you're not supposed to cook avocado. Why? Because it goes bitter?? Umm, yeah, but does that really matter? I actually like the flavour of cooked avocado. It adds a vibrant, new dimension to the normally quite mild-flavoured avocado and goes incredibly well with feta cheese and lots of sweetly cooked onions.
I had a good feeling this mixture was going to taste great wrapped in vine leaves and was pretty excited about turning these into my Dolmades with Avocado, Feta and Pine Nuts recipe submission for the Meatless Monday A to Z challenge.
The only thing I forgot about was how time consuming it is to make dolmades. It also requires LOTS of patience and a calm mind right from the get go – two things I didn't have today being the last day of the Easter holidays and having lots of freelance work piling up.
The key here is to choose a lazy day, perhaps a leisurely Sunday when you're in a relaxed mood and quietly prepared for some frustrating moments, starting with removing the tightly rolled vine leaves out of the jar without ripping them all apart. Then try unrolling them without ripping them all apart. And just when you think you've done okay, now it's time to separate each leaf without ripping them all apart.
I think this is why they pack about three hundred of the things in a jar because seriously, after you've deliberately (out of sheer madness) ripped apart more than half of the okay ones you managed to get out of the jar, unrolled and separated, you really only end up with about 30 usable leaves.
So, if you can get past all that, the rest of the process is at least a little less taxing on your sanity!
Have I completely put you off making dolmades yet? I'm sorry, I really don't mean to make such a fuss about this. I've actually only made these twice in my whole life and naturally my lack of experience is going to influence the way I feel about making dolmades. I would love it if an experienced dolmades master could share some tips on making the process a little easier and perhaps it will encourage me (and others) to give these another go, one day.
I really did love the filling I made for these though, and I'm thinking I could use it in a much more Lisa-friendly receptacle in future, like a capsicum or tomato! Even cabbage leaves would cause me less stress!
Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves) with Avocado, Feta and Pine Nuts
Makes about 30–40
- 450g jar of grape leaves in brine
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup long grain rice
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- 1 and a half avocados, roughly chopped
- 100g feta cheese, roughly crumbled
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Fry onions on low heat in half the oil until soft and transparent.
- While onions are cooking, remove grape leaves from jar, unroll and rinse well. Carefully separate leaves (it's a little easier if done under running water) and lay 30 or 40 untorn leaves out on a clean bench top. Reserve a few of the torn leaves and use them to line the bottom of a straight-sided pan.
- When onions are cooked, add rice and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
- Add garlic to onion and rice mixture and cook for another minute or so.
- Add pine nuts, dill and parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, carefully combine avocado and feta, without mashing.
- Once onion and rice mixture has cooled, carefully fold into avocado and feta mixture until just combined.
- Place around one teaspoon of mixture onto the base of a vine leaf and start to roll, tucking in the sides as you go. Place rolled vine leaf, seam side down, in pan.
- Repeat with remaining vine leaves, packing them into the pan, in two layers if necessary.
- Combine remaining olive oil with lemon juice and pour over vine leaves. Fill the pan with enough water to just cover the vine leaves and position an upturned plate over the vine leaves to keep them in place.
- Place a lid over the pan and simmer on low heat for around 40 minutes.