Dolmas are one of the typical dishes of Sarakostì, the 40 Day lent that precedes Greek Orthodox Easter. Several neighboring countries have different types of dolmas in their repertoire, while food historians have reported versions of this popular dish, as far as 400 BC. However one of our favorite versions is by our friend @recordsintheden
Sharon’s herbal dolmas are made with simple, everyday ingredients. They keep well in the fridge for several days and make a lovely appetizer.
2/3 cups Carolina or Calrose rice*
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 large bunch dill, finely chopped
1/2 large bunch mint, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes depending on size/ripeness
1 generous tbsp tomato paste
extra virgin olive oil
~35 grape leaves (jarred)
salt and pepper
*Can you use other rice? Yes. Will it work the same? Not necessarily. I find Calrose to be the best, most supple rice. Brown rice does not get as soft and a longer grain like basmati would be too long for a dolma. There are a few varieties that are less common elsewhere, namely Carolina and Glace.
*jarred grape leaves are available at greek or middle easterd delis and online
In a bowl, add the rice and fill with warm water until the rice is covered. Let sit while you prep the other ingredients.
In a pan on medium/low heat, sauté the onion with a generous dash of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and cook onions until translucent and just starting to brown, 8-10 minutes.
On a lightweight cutting board, cut the tomatoes in half. Then placing a box grater on top of the cutting board, grate the tomatoes by grating the open-faced half of the tomato on the large-holed side (the one you’d use for cheddar cheese, for example). Once grated, transfer the pulp and juices into the bowl. Roughly dice any tomato skin that wasn’t grated and add to the bowl.
Add the chopped dill and mint, tomato paste, and dried herbs to the bowl with the tomato, and season with salt and pepper. Drain the rice and add to the bowl. By now the onion should be done and cooled. Add to the bowl and combine everything.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Prep a large baking dish with a generous glug of olive oil. It doesn’t matter the shape of the dish. I use an 11’ ceramic circular casserole dish but any shape is fine so long as it’s at least 3 inches/6cm deep and around the same surface area. Prep your workspace by having the bowl of rice filling, baking dish for the dolma and your grape leaves all in front of you. On your clean worksurface/cutting board, start rolling the leaves. Assuming your leaves are coming from a jar, gently take them out of the jar one bunch at a time, give a gentle squeeze to expel some liquid, and one by one start to unwrap them as you fill them.
To fill, place the leaves vein-side up, and place ~2 tsp of the filling (depending on the size of the leaf) just above the bottom of the leaf stem where you can see it was cut. Do not overfill as you will be unable to roll the dolma and/or they will unroll during cooking. Remember, rice expands!
Starting with the bottom of the leaf where the stem was, fold the leaves up from the bottom and then the sides, rolling the leaf into itself and pulling and tucking in the sides (like a burrito) until you reach the top of the leaf, at which point the top section will act to seal the dolma. Place the wrapped dolma ‘face down’ on the side where you finished wrapping it. Continue with all the dolma until you run out of filling.
You want to pack the dolma in relatively tightly together. Don’t be afraid of this; if they are not packed well they may open during cooking and you’ll end up with rice and grape leaf stew. The surface area of the suggested baking dish should fit this amount of filling, or you can halve the dish area and make two layers of dolma.
When the rolling is complete, pour a generous swig of olive oil over the dolma. Then add enough water just to cover them. Take a plate or a large piece of foil; if using the plate, place it on top of the dolma, if using the foil gently fold it into the baking dish and wrap the sides inward. The point here is to put light weight on the dolma to prevent them from opening during cooking.
Cover the entire baking dish with foil and cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove (and reserve) the inner foil or plate, and use a spoon to discard any top-lying liquid. Replace the top foil over the baking dish, but open it on two sides so some of the dolma are exposed and steam can escape. Bake for another ~5 minutes. At this point you can check the dolma by carefully removing one to see if the rice is soft, which it should be.
Remove the foil and let rest to warm/room temperature. Serve, with yogurt optional.