Okay, here is a recipe that has taken “years” to develop. These are a somewhat substantial appetizer with many different flavors that are not typically combined. Please use a meat that tastes interesting like goat or lamb or venison.
Grape leaf preparation: Pick young, tender grape leaves about 5-6 inches wide. This recipe will need 2 or 3 dozen leaves. (If you live deep in a city or somewhere devoid of grapevines, I believe you can buy “canned grape leaves” at certain grocery stores.)
Prepare a large bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes in it. Boil a pot of water with a tablespoon of salt added to blanch the leaves. Submerge the grape leaves, a few at a time, into the boiling water for a minute or two. The color should change from bright green to that muted olive green color.
Gently move the leaves from the boiling water to the ice bath to cool them rapidly, then gently lay them out on a plate while the next batch of leaves are being blanched. (At this point, these blanched leaves can also be sealed into a plastic bag and placed in the freezer until a more convenient time to finish the process. In fact, the process of freezing and thawing breaks down the cellular structure of the leaves in such a way that they become more tender.)
Cook 1 Cup white or brown rice with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon turmeric for 10 minutes less than you normally would. While this is cooking, prepare the rest of the stuffing as follows.
In heavy skillet with lid, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, then throw in 1 teaspoon each of whole cumin seed, whole mustard seed, fresh minced rosemary, and coarsely ground coriander seed. Heat until they just start to sizzle and pop, then add 1 pound ground goat or lamb, one minced onion, 3-4 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon red wine, a teaspoon each of ground horseradish and ground ginger, and ½ teaspoon of salt.
Lightly brown the meat mixture.
Next, add the following to the meat mixture and blend well:
- ¼ teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, chili powder, ground coriander, and ground cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- A pinch of ground clove and a pinch of ground cardamom
- ½ cup of currants or chopped raisins
- 2 tablespoons each of fresh, minced oregano, parsley, and mint
- ½ cup of lemon juice
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
Add the cooked rice to the meat mixture and blend well again. At this point, I sometimes add a shredded carrot, minced tomato, and have also been known to add some finely diced apple. I also sample it now to make sure it has a nice savory and tangy Mediterranean flavor (i.e., add more garlic or lemon juice if necessary).
Lay out the grape leaves, vein side up, and put a tablespoon of the stuffing in the middle, fold over the sides, and roll it up like a burrito. The amount of stuffing will vary depending on the size of the leaf, but try not to over-stuff them or they will disintegrate later. You will learn this and other things by the time you wrap your second to last dolma, so I will try not to spoil your hueristic experience.
It is at this stage that the leaves remind me of bat wings.
Place the dolmas into an oiled heavy skillet, and line them up neatly. If they are all packed in tightly, they will hold each other together and keep them from unrolling. As you heat up the skillet, drizzle another couple tablespoons each of water, lemon juice and olive oil over the top, and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Simmer on low heat for 15 or 20 minutes with it covered, then uncover it and let them cool a bit. Let it be known that my most common mistake is to cook them too long… don’t let it boil dry – they will burn.
Now, with tongs or a fork, very gently move the dolmas from the skillet to a glass casserole dish, again, packing them tightly if possible. This is when they are most likely to disintegrate, so be very careful.