Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves).
Dolmades, better homemade. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Stuffed grape-vine leaves are a much loved appetiser in the Middle East. We know them best by their Greek name, dolmades.

Although they take a little time to make and are fiddly, it is worth it as they are so much better than any you can buy. Find someone to help you with the rolling and then it becomes a companionable and pleasant task. Dolmades can be made a day or two ahead or frozen for another time.

For the dolmades in today's recipe I have used vine leaves preserved in brine, which only need to be rinsed. These are readily available from delicatessens and Middle Eastern grocers. Fresh grape leaves are better, of course, if you have a grape vine in your garden. Keep an eye out for them next spring when they will be young and tender. Silverbeet leaves are an excellent alternative. See the variation after the recipe.

Turkish Mung bean salad.
Turkish mung-bean salad. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Serve dolmades with a yoghurt and garlic sauce, radishes and squeeze of lemon as part of a mezze platter, or as a canape with drinks. They also go very well with tzatziki, tomatoes, feta cheese, kalamata olives, pickles and bread.

The Turkish mung-bean salad (mas fasulyesi piyaz) can also be served as a mezze dish, or as a refreshing salad with other dishes.

Mung beans are originally from India and are now an important part of the diet throughout Asia. They are grown in south-eastern Turkey, where this nutritious salad recipe comes from.

Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, dlampe@bigpond.net.au

 

Dolmades - stuffed vine leaves

Makes 50

250g preserved vine leaves or 6 dozen fresh young vine leaves

2 cups hot water and optional vegie stock cube

juice of 1 lemon

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Filling

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

250g (1¼ cups) long-grain rice, rinsed and soaked for 30 minutes

2 tbsp pinenuts, lightly toasted

2 tbsp currants, rinsed

¼ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp allspice

2 tbsp tomato paste

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

pinch sugar

¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup chopped dill and/or mint

To serve

250g Greek yoghurt

1 small clove garlic, crushed

1 lemon, cut into wedges

If using fresh leaves, blanch them in a large saucepan of rapidly boiling salted water. Cook in batches for three or four minutes, then transfer to a bowl of cold water. Remove the leaves and drain. For preserved vine leaves, unfold them and rinse in lots of cold water. Cut off stems.

To make the filling, heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a pan and fry the onion for about five minutes until softened. Then stir in the rice and pinenuts and fry for a minute or two. Add the currants, spices, 1½ tablespoons of the tomato paste and season well with salt, pepper and sugar. Cook for a few moments longer. Take off the heat and mix through the fresh herbs.

To stuff the vine leaves, spread the leaves out (veins facing up) on your workbench. Place two to three teaspoons of the rice mixture at the stem end of each leaf and roll up, tucking in the sides as you go.

Place a few leftover or torn leaves in the bottom of a casserole or heavy saucepan to protect the dolmades as they cook. Arrange the stuffed leaves closely together, seams down on the leaves. You will probably need to make a second layer. When finished, spread more leaves on top and then place a small plate over them to hold the dolmades in place and stop them unravelling.

Mix the remaining half tablespoon of tomato paste, hot water, stock cube, lemon juice and olive oil together and pour over the stuffed vine leaves to barely cover. Add more water if needed, season and cover. Simmer on the stove top for about an hour until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Let the dish stand for a while to steam. When cool, store in the fridge.

Prepare a yoghurt sauce by whisking the yoghurt with garlic and seasoning. Serve dolmades at room temperature with the yoghurt sauce and lemon wedges.

Variations

Try coarse burghul or bulgur (cracked wheat) rather than rice for the filling. Soak it first in hot water. You could add cooked chickpeas (roughly chopped) to the stuffing mixture as an alternative to the currants and pinenuts in the recipe.

Silverbeet leaves can be used instead of vine leaves. They will end up being a bit bigger. To prepare, cut the stem and central spine from silverbeet leaves (keep for another dish), blanch the leaves and then cut each into four pieces.

Another filling, more like the dolmades from the deli or a can, can be made simply with rice, spring onions, mint, dill and olive oil.

 

Turkish mung-bean salad

Serves 6

1 cup dried (110g) mung beans

1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

½ bunch mint, shredded

½ bunch dill (optional)

2 tbsp pomegranate arils (seeds) (optional)

 

Dressing

1 lemon (3tbsp juice)

sea salt to taste

¼ to ½ tsp hot paprika

1garlic clove, crushed (optional)

3tsp pomegranate molasses (optional)

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

 

To serve

1 punnet cherry tomatoes, or 3 tomatoes, diced

feta cheese

Greek yoghurt

Dried mung beans may not need soaking, if you can be sure they are fresh, but I usually soak them for a short time just in case. Check through the beans and discard any that are broken or discoloured. Wash them and then soak in cold water for about two hours.

Tip away the soaking water and put the mung beans in a saucepan with plenty of fresh cold water (no salt) and gently bring to the boil. Skim as needed and remove any skins that float to the surface. Simmer, partly covered, for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Test several beans to be sure they are all cooked. Some of the beans may split but don't worry, as it won't affect the finished salad. Drain and place beans in a large bowl.

Whisk together the lemon juice, salt, paprika, garlic and pomegranate molasses (if using) and the olive oil to make the dressing. Taste for balance and adjust. Pour the dressing over the warm beans and mix through. When the mung beans are cool add the spring onions and herbs. I don't think you can have too many herbs in this salad. If including pomegranate arils, add those now.

Serve the salad with tomatoes, feta, yoghurt and bread. It goes well with beetroot, too.

Variations

Chopped red pepper could be included in the salad. Red onion can be used instead of, or as well as the spring onions. Wine vinegar can be used instead of, or as well as the lemon juice in the dressing. Sumac can be sprinkled over the salad.