I’ve probably eaten hundreds (if not thousands) of stuffed grape leaves in my life. And about 99% of them were made by my dad. We always called them “stuffed grape leaves,” never dolmas, and they were pretty straight forward: white rice, lamb, minimal seasonings, and a light coating of lemon-egg sauce. We’d soak the leaves in the sink (never in a bowl), then my dad and I would divvy up the responsibilities: one of us separating leaves and scooping filling — the other one rolling and positioning in the pressure cooker.
According to the Dolmas entry on the all-knowing oracle that is Wikipedia, “dolma” is the noun form of the Turkish verb dolmak, which means “to be stuffed” (which sounds kinda like an insult: “Get stuffed, you freakin’ leaf!”). If you’re at all interested in how different cuisines adapt iconic dishes (guilty as charged), the Wiki page is a fun read. Iraqi cooks use pomegranate juice! In Egypt, they make ‘em really small! And this tidbit was too tasty to not share with you:
In Sweden, Kåldolmar is a Swedish dish inspired by dolma, probably brought to Sweden by king Karl XII who was held captive by the Turks in Bender after losing the Battle of Poltava against the Russians in 1709. It is made of cabbage instead of grape leaves and contains minced pork or beef and rice. It is eaten with boiled potatoes, brown sauce and lingonberry jam.
Lingonberry jam! I’m intrigued.
We almost always ate stuffed grape leaves with the lemon-egg sauce which is, apparently, the Greek way (avgolemono is the Greek name for the sauce), although I like to think of it as the Tom Joulwan way. I liked to munch on stuffed grape leaves straight out of the refrigerator so the rice was very firm and the leaves snapped as my teeth broke through them. I wondered if I could replicate that solid-but-tender experience with cauliflower rice and was really happy to find that after a nice chill in the fridge, these stuffed grape leaves are close enough to the real thing to satisfy my memories and my taste buds.
Paleo Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmas)
Prep 20 min. | Cook 25 min. | Makes about 30 dolmas
1 8-ounce jar grape leaves (I used Mezzeta.)
1/2 head raw cauliflower
2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)
2 tablespoons raisins or currants (optional)
1 pound ground lamb (I like Lava Lake Lamb; 100% grassfed.)
1/2 medium raw onion
1 tablespoon dried mint
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 fresh lemons
1 large egg
NOTE: I used small amounts of the nuts and raisins since they’re “paleo” but they’re also kinda borderline in terms of nutrition. If you’re feeling like splurging, up the amount to 1/4 cup each. If you’re feeling strict, skip them completely.
1. Carefully remove the leaves from the jar and place in the sink or a large bowl. Cover with hot water and allow to soak at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, break the cauliflower into florets, removing the stems. Place the florets in the food processor bowl and pulse until the cauliflower looks like rice. This takes about 10 to 15 one-second pulses. Place “rice” in a large mixing bowl and put the bowl back on the food processor; no need to clean it yet.
2. Heat a dry skillet over medium high heat, then add pine nuts and raisins, stirring often and cooking until the pine nuts are lightly toasted, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside to cool, then coarsely chop. (I like to coarsely chop the pine nuts and raisins so I get a little in every bite.) Add the nuts and raisins to the rice in the bowl.
3. Place the lamb, onion, mint, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and run the motor until the ingredients form a paté and everything is combined. Add the lamb paté to the rice and mix well. The easiest way to do this is with your hands: run them under a little cold water and dig in.
4. In a large saucepan, place a few reject leaves — the ones that are torn or small — to cover the bottom of the pan. Drain the water from the rest of the leaves and get ready to start rolling…
5. Place a leaf on a flat surface with the shiny side facing down, snip off the stem, and place about 1 tablespoon of filling on the end of the leaf closest to you. Roll from the bottom, fold in the sides, and keep rolling ’til you have a cigar shape. You want to roll them pretty tightly so they don’t come apart during the cooking process. (NOTE: This is different than traditional dolmas where you want to leave a little wiggle room for the rice to expand during cooking. The cauliflower actually shrinks as it cooks, so roll them up tight!) Place the rolls in the pan and nestle them up against each other pretty snuggly. Here’s a handy video to show you how it’s done. (I forbid Dave from shooting my face, but dig my cute polka dot dress!)
6. Cut one of the lemons into thin slices and arrange the slices on top of the dolmas in the pan. Place a heat-proof plate on top of the dolmas and press down, then add water to the pan to cover the plate with about 1 inch of water. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. As soon as the water is rolling, turn the heat way down to a gentle simmer and cook 25-30 minutes, until the leaves are tender but still have a little bite left in ‘em.
7. Carefully remove the plate and drain all the water from the pan — you might need to remove the dolmas to do this. Put the dolmas back in the pan and cover wth the lid so they stay hot. In a small bowl, whisk the juice from the remaining lemon with the egg until frothy. Pour over the dolmas, then put the lid back on and let them work their magic. The hot dolmas gently cook the egg/lemon sauce to create a tangy coating.
8. Remove the dolmas from the pan, place covered in the fridge, and wait until they’re chilled. They taste great cold, room temp, or hot — but are best if reheated, rather than eaten immediately when they come out of the pan. I like to eat them cold with a sprinkle of coarse salt and a tiny drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Paleo Stuffed Grape Leaves Taste Great With…
A few words about buying lamb: I’m a new and forever fan of Lava Lake Lamb; read my review here. I should tell you that I received a lovely package of complimentary lamb from Lava Lake, but from now on, I’ll be buying my own. It’s that good, and I have zero interest in eating the somewhat bland lamb of questionable origin available at the grocery store.
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