Vines are probably the only plants in Greece where every part of the plant except the roots are used in cooking. In May fresh stems are pickled and used in salads or served as a meze and the vine leaves themselves are stuffed with rice (dolmádes), meat or fish. Juice from unripe grapes is used in mountainous regions as a seasoning early in summer when lemons are not available and, of course wine, is a classic ingredient in cooking everywhere. In February and March, the season of pruning, some of the dry vine branches are collected and are used all year long in a special cooking technique: the dry vine branches are arranged in a layer at the bottom of a baking pan, and the lamb meat is set on them, so that during cooking the juices don't come in contact with the meat. This way the meat browns all over.
Here I present the recipe for classic dolmádes (ντολμάδες), stuffed vine leaves with rice and herbs, a dish cooked in spring with fresh vine leaves or all year long with preserved ones which can be found in any store selling Mediterranean food products. Dolmádes can be served as a first or a main course or a as a meze.
(makes about 60)
1 cup. extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 cup round grain rice (for risotto)
¼ cup long grain rice
4Tbsps fresh dill chopped
2Tbsps fresh parsley chopped
3 Spring onions chopped
1/2tsp. dried mint
60 grape leaves in brine, drained
salt and pepper to taste
1⁄4cup fresh lemon juice
Heat ½ cup oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft, 3–4 minutes. Add rice, 3 cups water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil and cook for 3minutes more. Stir in dill, parsley, and mint. Let cool.
Coat the bottom of a pot with the remaining oil and cover with 4 grape leaves.
Set the remaining grape leaves on a work surface, vein side up. Working with one leaf at a time, flatten the leaf and place about 1 tsp. rice mixture in the center. Fold the bottom of leaf over filling, fold in sides, and roll into tight cylinder. Transfer with the seamed side down (so it does not come apart), to the pot. Repeat. Add lemon juice and enough water just to cover the wrapped dolmádes. Cover them with a small plate to keep them submerged; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until rice filling is tender, 20-30 minutes. Serve dolmádes at room temperature or cold with Greek yogurt.