I cooked my final meal at the Lake House this past week. The guys, in an act of complete humility and selflessness, have decided to leave the Lake House to give Jon and Natalia the space needed to work on their marriage. As such, the house they'll be moving into is currently lacking a stove. I'm crafty and creative, but there's not a whole lot I can do without a stove.
Greek food is always something that brings good memories of my time at Pizza Market, a small chain of pizza shops owned by a Greek family up in New Hampshire. My boss, Sam, was from Greece and brought so much of his family and culture to the little hole-in-the-wall in Manchester, NH. I can always be wooed by baklava, feta, and spanakopeta. But dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, were never something I tried. Recently, my friend David suggested I make them. He doesn't ask much of me and always, when I ask 'What should I make for dinner tonight?' his response is, 'It'll be good, no matter what it is,' so I decided to take his advice.
It was far more labor intensive than I anticipated, but just getting to the point where I could make them presented a challenge in itself. Finding un-stuffed grape leaves was its own obstacle. Then, finding that the rice container at the Lake House was full of bugs, and that all the mint that was previously over-taking the entire landscape at the Lake House miraculously disappeared (you can't get it to go away if you tried), I was beginning to think that the cosmos were trying to tell me something. I persisted, though, and ended up making 60 or so stuffed grape leaves and tzatziki sauce.
I wasn't a huge fan of the grape leaves, they were too salty for me. If I could do it over, I would rinse and soak them in not pickly water. The tzatziki was good and easy enough to make and I'd eat that on absolutely anything I could.
Here's the recipe for the dolmades:
1 lb. of rice
1.5 lbs of ground meat (the suggestion was lamb, I used beef)
1/2 chopped fresh mint
juice of one lemon
1 medium onion
4-5 tbsp of chopped garlic
salt and pepper
1/3 c of pine nuts, chopped
beef or chicken broth
Here's what to do:
Remove the grape leaves from the jar, rinse them and let them soak in cool water. Heat 2tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. When it's warm, add the garlic and onions. Cook until soft and brownish. Then add meat and fry it up until it's cooked. Add salt and pepper to season the meat. (I added a sprinkle of Greek Seasoning, something only found down here.) Let the meat cool for a bit. When the meat is cooled off, add the uncooked rice, the mint, lemon juice and pine nuts. Stir together until evenly mixed. Get your empty grape leaves ready. Using a spoon, add about a couple table spoons of mix to the grape leave. You'll have to look up how to fold it into a tightly compacted little nugget, it's hard to explain. Then pack them tightly into the bottom of a large sauce pan or pot. Put them as close to each other as possible, this will help keep them together. Once you've used up either all the stuffing or all the grape leaves, add enough broth (or water) to the pot to cover the dolmades. This broth will cook the rice. Put them on the stove and let the water boil. Let it boil for 5 minutes then turn it down to simmering. It's going to take quite awhile for the rice to cook inside the little rolls so be patient. It took me an hour and 15 minutes! Make sure to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't burn. If the water steams out before they are done, add more water. I just taste-tested them to see if they were done. The rice should be fully cooked.
32oz of plain Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, de-seeded
5 tbsp chopped garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
Instructions: Grate the cucumber or chop it into tiny pieces. Mix all ingredients together. Let sit so all the flavors can mix together. Voila!
I slathered the dolmades in the tzatziki to cut the salty-ness. I also dipped pita bread in them. I also ate it with a spoon. Don't judge. There are no pictures, I was so hungry by the time they were done (almost 3 hours later) that I just devoured them. I was also watching the season finale of Glee, which may have been a bit of a distraction.
OPA! (Broken plates and wasted paper napkins omitted)