On a warm day in Tarrytown, the sidewalks on the corner of Main St. and N. Broadway are packed with people dining al fresco. They’re at Lefteris, which indisputably owns the prime location of downtown. It’s impossible to walk by without taking a few nosy glances at diners’ plates and thinking, “I wonder if anyone would make a fuss if I grabbed a dolma right off of there.” Like any respectable Greek restaurant, Lefteris knows how to make a good dolma.
Now I know I can make them too, just not as well.
They’re quite fun, actually — maybe because at least until the point of taking them out of the pot, preparing them is fairly idiot-proof.
I found this recipe at the blog, Budget Bytes. You can fill your dolmas with ground meat, currants, pine nuts… there are several variations. I forgot to buy pine nuts and ended up sticking to the basic recipe.
Here’s what you need:
1 jar grape leaves
1 medium onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups rice, uncooked
6 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp mint, minced (parsley would probably work too)
The grape leaves I picked up at Yaranush in White Plains.
The prep’s pretty straightforward: saute the onion and garlic in 2 tbsp of olive oil until soft. Mix them in a bowl with the rice, 4 tbsp lemon juice, salt and mint.
The fun part’s in the rolling. Take out the grape leaves and gently pull them apart, because they’re going to come out of the jar stuck together.
Depending on the size of the leaf, place 1 tsp-1 tbsp of the filling down at the base near the stem.
Fold the leaf up from the bottom, then fold in the sides, and roll like you would a burrito. (Only, this is ten times easier than rolling a burrito. The grape leaf is wonderful to work with: strong, yet pliable. And none of my filling spilled out the sides).
Pack the dolmas tightly in a pot, seam side down, and create a second layer if necessary.
Drizzle the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp lemon juice over the top, and fill the pot with water until the dolmas are covered.
The author of Budget Bytes gives a good tip here. You need to cover the dolmas and pack them down with weight while they’re boiling. I used two plates and the top of a small pot to provide enough weight.
Boil for 40 minutes, or until the dolmas are soft.
The tricky part’s getting them out of the pot.
There was still a significant amount of liquid in there. I tried using tongs to lift the dolmas out. That wasn’t too smart; several of them tore. Then I used a spoon, which worked better, but not totally; a few dolmas still broke. Others unraveled and spilled out all of the filling.
Any suggestions on the best way to do this? They’re so fragile!
As you can see, they got a little misshapen once they reached the plate. And that bottom dolma looks like a roll of toothpaste with the toothpaste squeezed out.
Ate them with a tzatziki sauce and pita bread. They looked bad, but tasted good. The rest went in the fridge to chill.
If you have a method for cooking and removing dolmas that keeps them from breaking, I’m all ears. How come the ones at restaurants look so uniform and plump? Think the folks at Lefteris will tell me the secret if I ask?