Tuesday 11 November 2008


There are times when you really need a yiayia. Although my grandmother (the one who smelled of lavender) was once spotted singing and dancing to Greek folksongs in a paddock with one of her neighbours, she wasn't much of a cook. Definitely your go-to girl if you needed inspiration on interior design and colour schemes or needed something translated from about 6 modern languages or needed a bit of a cuddle but her "stirfry" was a symphony of shades of grey sludge and her pastry tasted handknitted.

So when I discovered that this house had 2 very extensive grapevines in the garden, I knew I was going to be feeling the absence of a big fat Greek grandmother.

Fortunately, the wonders of the internet have provided me with the next best thing to my own yiayia - Peter Minakis. I knew Peter the Greek wouldn't steer me wrong in my search for a way to preserve the vineleaves that were threatening to take over the entire garden. And he didn't - not only did he give his method for bottling the vineleaves in brine, but he also steered me straight to this very easy method of freezing them.

So there I was. A thick cigar of vineleaves in the freezer, a cold and rainy Sunday and no inclination to leave the house. Some further ferreting in the back of the freezer produced a tray of Welsh lamb mince and a tub of homemade chicken stock flavoured with saffron.

I read a bunch of different recipes before coming up with my own version.

Dolmades (made 7 fat main-course ones, would have been about 16-20 little ones for mezze)

1 bundle thawed vineleaves (about 14 leaves)
2tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1tsp dried wild oregano
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1tbs pinenuts
500g lamb mince
1/4 cup rice (raw)
Grated zest of a lemon
salt & pepper
400ml chicken stock
a slosh more olive oil
juice of a lemon
1 egg
juice of another lemon

Saute the onion & garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add the pinenuts, oregano and cinnamon & cook for another minute or so, then allow to cool. Mix the lamb mince with the rice and add the onion mixture with the grated lemon zest and a good seasoning of salt & pepper. Stuff the vineleaves (I used 2 overlapping for each parcel, because they were a main course), tucking the ends in and place them in a heavy-based saucepan. Any leftover mixture can be squashed into little meatballs and tucked around the dolmades. Cover with the chicken stock, a little more olive oil and the juice of a lemon, then simmer gently (lid on) for about 45 minutes.

At the end of the cooking time, take a spoonful of the liquid out of the pan and whisk it into the egg and juice of another lemon, before pouring it back into the saucepan and allowing it to stand for a few minutes to thicken.

Serve the dolmades with the egg & lemon sauce poured over. I served mine with some broad beans bottled in olive oil (Spanish) and some more of my fungi sott'olio (Italian). It tasted wonderful but it was a symphony of shades of olive. Maybe I did learn a few things about cooking from my grandmother.


Peter M said...

I'm glad to have helped you on your journey through Dolmades which also triggered thoughts of giagia.

You're lucky to have your own grape leaves to harvest and good to see your creativity in the dish.

Sarah said...

Your description of your grandmother's pastry cracks me up! I envy your backyard access to grapevines; nothing of the sort grows here in South Florida. When I get my hands on some store-bought grape leaves, I'll have to give this recipe a try :)

Just Cook It said...

Oh, I love these things. Great job

Alicia Foodycat said...

Thanks Peter! Couldn't have done it without you!

Sarah - that's a lot easier than waiting until next spring, which is what I will be doing.

Thanks Alex!

Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

Foodycat, fascinating recipe. I love reading your blog. You are such a witty writer. Thank you.

Esi said...

I love dolmades. My friend recently made a vegetarian version for a potluck and I could not get enough!

NKP said...

I love dolmades. I have only bought the leaves in a jar from the grocers though. Good for you for preserving your own. We have an invasive wild grape vine on our fence, I have always wondered if the leaves were edible. Maybe I should ask Peter....

Joie de vivre said...

I'm sure Peter was honored to be compared to a Greek grandmother!

Darius T. Williams said...

This is definitely a hunter/gatherer recipe - but it looks great!

michelle @ thursday night smackdown said...

hmm...i don't like stuffed grape leaves at all, but my husband does. i'll have to give these a try. well, once i track down the leaves.

Heather said...

I just found out about the egg-and-lemon juice whisking thing - the Silver Spoon does it for an eggplant fricassee that I tried last night.

I could eat about a million dolmades. I should try that freezing trick, too. Having your own grape leaves makes it pretty easy, eh?

Alicia Foodycat said...

Teresa - Thank you!

Esi - I usually prefer the vegetarian ones too. I love the canned ones dripping with dark green olive oil!

Natashya - I don't see why they wouldn't be edible. But I would check just in case.

Joie - well, he's the closest thing I have got!

Darius - thanks! I do like foraging in my own back garden.

Michelle - life is too short if you don't like them. I will make my spicy lamb filo cigars at some point and see if you prefer them.

Heather - the freezing thing is brilliant!

kat said...

I love how many of us use Peter as our Greek expert!

Laurie said...

Your dolmades are beautiful! I make stuffed cabbage, but have never tried anything as exotic as grape leaves.

hungryandfrozen said...

"pastry tasted handknitted." - greatest description ever. I've NEVER actually had dolmades before...but you make them sound good :)

Norm Schoen said...

I am SO impressed! Next year when we are picking grapes for wine I am going to get some leaves as well.

Dee said...

Sigh. Yet another ingredient I won't be locating in this corner of the world :(

You did good!

Deb in Hawaii said...

I love dolmades and these look incredible! The fact you can harvest your own leaves too! I am in awe of you once again! (and drooling now too...)

Rachel said...

Thanks for this cool post, Foodycat. We have a grapevine that provides a modest screen on fence around our backyard pool and I will be using this information and your recipes to make homemade dolmades. And thanks for the link to Kolfagas and the great way of preserving grape leaves in brine! Stumbleicious!

Lulu Barbarian said...

Your dolmades sound super! Glad you liked my method for freezing the grape leaves...not that it's actually my method, of course, it's Mama's.


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