Taking a taste trip to Greece

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Have you ever been to Greece? I have, briefly, whilst working on a sailboat and we dropped off guests in Corfu. I unfortunately only got ashore to provision food for the delivery of the boat back to Italy, and managed a quick bite ashore as I ended up on watch duty (meaning I had to stay on the boat) while the rest of the crew got a day and a bit to explore and so on...such is life on yachts! You travel to all these amazing ports, but many times you only see the place from the deck of the boat, or from the porthole because you are not able to to ashore. 

However, Greek cuisine is not new to me. In true Mediterranean fashion, it is largely based on vegetables, olive oil, fish, poultry, lamb, pork, wine, grains and cheese. Probably without even realizing it, you have eaten food with that influence, or perhaps you knew what you were eating. I hope you loved it!

 Me standing at the base of the main mast, somewhere in the Ionian Sea.

Me standing at the base of the main mast, somewhere in the Ionian Sea.

This last week friends of mine were having a reunion party for a group of people who had all gone to Santorini together. One of the party-goers asked me if I could make some dolma (dolmadakia) for her to take to the party as she was in the middle of a house move and unable to drive across the state, move in AND make food all at the same time...(what?!? not able to be in 3 places at once? How odd) Happily for me, she also asked if I could make them Paleo friendly! Now, traditional dolmas can be filled with all sorts of things, but ground lamb and rice come to mind. We decided that we would go with beef just in case some of the people at the party were not into lamb. I went to Pinterest and found a Paleo Dolmas recipe from Empowered Sustenance that fit the bill.

What is a dolma? It is a little cigar-shaped parcel of veggies, rice and meat that has been cooked and is served either warm or cold with some lemon sprinkled on top. There are so many different traditional and non-traditional fillings. It makes a great addition to a meze (appetizer) platter, a yummy quick snack, and even a nice little meal on the go.

First admission: I have never made dolmas myself before. I have watched my Mother make them plenty of times as a kid. I have mentioned before that I grew up with a lot of cultural food influence, and my Mom was not afraid to try and tackle just about anything...so I figured: she could do this, so can I. Turns out, it really wasn't all that difficult. In fact, because I wasn't having to go the step of cooking rice, it probably was even easier than traditionally made dolmades.

Paleo Dolmas (Recipe from Empowered Sustenance)

Makes about 40

1 lb ground lamb (I used beef, not lean)

3/4 head cauliflower (riced)

3 TBSP currants (I used 4)

3 garlic cloves (make them big)

1 jar Grape leaves

2 lemons (the recipe calls for one but I found it needed more)

2 TBSP fresh mint (I used 3 TBSP chopped)

1/2 an onion chopped

1 tsp sea salt

1 TBSP ghee or coconut oil

2 TBSP olive oil (rough guideline, I definitely used more)

3 TBSP pine nuts (love pine nuts so I used maybe 5 TBSP)

1. In a saute pan over medium heat, sauce the onion in the ghee until translucent, about 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl with your hands, combine the riced cauliflower, cooked onion, mint, lamb, currants, nuts, minced garlic, and salt. Add the juice of 1 lemon and combine well.

3. To roll the dolmas, place a flattened grape leave vein-side up. Place a packed tablespoon, more or less, of the filling at the base of the leaf. Then, holding the filling in place, fold in the side of the leaf and roll it up. (like a cigar)

4. As you make the dolmas, place them seam-side down in a large pot. Pack tightly to create a layer. If you have enough for two layers, make another layer.

5. Drizzle the dolmas with the juice of the other lemon and the olive oil. Add water to the pot to just fully cover the dolmas.

6. Find a plate that fits the width of the pot, and place it over the dolmas to weigh them down during cooking. (I used the lid of another pot...way heavier).

7. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

 Double layer of dolmas in the pot, seam side down so the simmering doesn't cause them to unroll.

Double layer of dolmas in the pot, seam side down so the simmering doesn't cause them to unroll.

8. Serve the dolmas warm or chilled. If you are storing them in the fridge before serving, place them in a container and spoon over some of the cooking water to keep them moist.

 If you are going to use a plate to weight the dolmas down, make sure it is heavy enough to do so. If your plates are light, then double up. I found this lid of another pot to be ideal.

If you are going to use a plate to weight the dolmas down, make sure it is heavy enough to do so. If your plates are light, then double up. I found this lid of another pot to be ideal.

Notes: To make the cauliflower rice, cut the cauliflower into florets and pulse in a food processor in batches until the pieces are rice-sized. Or, you could use a blender.  Or you could find a bag of already riced cauliflower, and if the pieces are too big, pulse them in the processor or blender and you are done!

Also, I learned that when you pull the roll of grape leaves out of the brine, hold it over the sink and gently squeeze out the excess water so that your rolling surface isn't awash with brine. Finally, if you pull a leaf out and it seems really small or has a rip, no problem, you can layer another leaf on top kind of turned so that all the gaps are covered before filling and rolling. REMEMBER: don't have any gaps where the filling is exposed, or else when you are cooking them, the filling will escape!

Rolling stuff can be a pain in the ass, there is no doubt about that, but this took me under an hour to have it all prepped and in the pot simmering away. AND you get a lot for one recipe! It was quite easy, I really liked them (as I obviously had to taste the ones that had unravelled during cooking due to my not closing all the gaps). I will make them again, for sure.

You could make these for your next party, or just to have, as they will keep in the fridge for several days once they are cooked. I also think you could freeze them after cooking. Probably need to drain them well before freezing so that the liquid doesn't swell and cause them to split, then pack them into an airtight container. If they need rehydration after thawing, then I would warm slightly in the microwave, sprinkle with more fresh lemon juice and some olive oil. If you cannot afford a trip to Greece to eat these at the source, why not give it a try yourself? I can think of worse things than taking a taste trip to the Med...turquoise waters, salty sea air, warm sun...

Yours in Health ~ Dawn

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