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
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
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.