I love ethnic food. I grew up eating it, and to me it is comfort food. My Grandma married the nicest man alive (my Grandpa Raoul) when my Mom was little. He was Hispanic, so my Grandma (who was an amazing cook) learned how to make authentic Mexican food from Grandpa Raoul and his mother, my Great Grandma Annie. My Grandma and Grandpa Raoul even owned a Mexican restaurant in the 1960's. It was called "Raoul's Golden Sombrero". Grandpa ran the kitchen and Grandma waited tables. How CUTE is that??? I can still remember eating my Grandma's handmade flour tortillas hot off her well seasoned cast iron pan. The salty butter melted immediately upon hitting the tortilla, and I rolled it up and ate my delicious prize. Melted butter ran down my hands, and I didn't care. Comfort. What does this have to do with Stuffed Grape Leaves? It is connected because it illustrates one of the examples of how ethnic food became comfort food for me at a young age. I have similar memories of Middle Eastern Food as a child. My Mom re-married when I was 8 years old. My Step Dad was Syrian. He had this huge family that liked to celebrate anything and everything all of the time. I think it might have been an excuse for the women of the family to prepare massive platters of the greatest tasting Middle Eastern comfort foods known to man. In addition to mounds of creamy hummus served with bakery fresh Pita triangles, savory rice dishes and Roasted Lamb, there was always a giant mountain of Stuffed Grape Leaves (aka Dolmades). As a child, I thought they looked like shiny green cigars. I approached with caution. After much convincing by a relentless room full of persuasive adults, I finally tasted one. WOW! Lemon-y and salty, yet balanced with a slight fruitiness. I loved them! I could polish off a pile of them in no time. Those Dolmades of my childhood contained meat and I am now a vegetarian, so I had to search for a suitable recipe. I recently found an excellent recipe for vegetarian Dolmades (courtesy of Tyler Florence). I tweaked the recipe a little bit, based on my experiences while preparing this dish. Dolmades make such a perfect light meal for Spring and Summer when served with a vinegar infused cucumber and tomato salad. Add a side of hummus and some GF crackers or lavosh bread if you like. They are a delicious offering as an appetizer when entertaining too. Served hot or cold,
I am sure you will agree that Dolmades stand for one thing. Comfort.
Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades) - Gluten Free
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, halved cored & diced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup long grain rice
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (at this writing Swanson's is GF)
2 tablespoons finally chopped fresh dill leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
salt and fresh ground black pepper
8 oz jar grape leaves, rinsed and drained
2 lemons, juiced (save the peels to grate for the zest in this recipe; freeze extra for future use)
To make the filling, coat a large saute pan with 1/4 cup of the oil and place over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel and lemon zest and stir until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the pine nuts and rice, saute for 2 minutes, stirring to coat. Pour in just 1/2 cup of the vegetable broth and lower the heat. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 10 minutes. Scrape the parboiled rice mixture into a bowl and add the dill and parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool.
To assemble the Dolmades, lay a grape leaf on a work surface, shiny side down. Put 2 Tbsp. of the rice filling near the stem end of the leaf. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and roll up into a cigar - it should be snug but not overly tight because the rice will swell once it is fully cooked. Squeeze lightly in the palm of your hand to secure the roll. Repeat with remaining grape leaves and filling.
Place the Dolmades in a 9x13 glass baking dish, seam side down in a single layer. Pour the remaining cup of broth, remaining olive oil, and the lemon juice over the Dolmades, the liquid should reach halfway up the rolls, add some water if necessary. Cover the pan and Bake @ 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until the Dolamdes are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cool. Tastes great served with a side of Cucumber Tomato Salad (recipe below).
Cucumber Tomato Salad
1 English cucumber or regular cucumber, sliced (no need to peel English type)
4 ripe Roma tomatoes, sliced (or 2 medium sized tomatoes)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
Arrange sliced tomatoes and cucumbers on a dinner sized plate. Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar. Sprinkle with crumbled Feta cheese. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Yield: 4-6 servings