My Citizens! As Autarch of Authenticity, your TFD strives to achieve the ne plus ultra for achieving recipe perfection by ALWAYS going back to original sources. You can’t get much more original than Greek dolmades – those delectable meat and rice bundles, wrapped in grapevine leaves and dressed with a lemony sauce redolent of all that is good in Greek cuisine! As a scholar of ancient Greek history and mythology, there is no question in My mind that the Gods themselves on high Olympus enjoyed these delights before Prometheus stole the recipe (with fire!) for mankind!
ALL THAT SAID – prepare to have your preconceived notions as to what constitutes the primary meat enjoyed in Greek cuisine shattered – because it is NOT lamb! In fact, it is pork that is the most beloved everyday meat enjoyed by the Greeks – only in the United States do Greek immigrants enjoy lamb on a near-daily basis. In Greece proper, it is a holiday meat enjoyed only a few times a year – and that means the lamb dolmades you’ve enjoyed in the past are NOT authentic to Greece, but to Greek-Americans! Today’s recipe is a proper and true recipe from the Old Country – enhanced by TFD!
Dolmades (sometimes pronounced: dohl-MAH-thes) are the Greek version of stuffed grape leaves, a beloved food consumed throughout Greece, the Balkans and throughout the Middle East.
The first known stuffed leaf recipe was recorded in approximately 335 BC, where it was known to the ancient Greeks as ‘thrion’ and made using fig leaves rather than grape leaves. Fig leaves were pickled and stored in much the same way as grape leaves are today and were commonly filled with cheese or fish. It is said that when Alexander marched into the city of Thebes, to a grand welcome by his generals and soldiers, he was taken aback by the platters of stuffed vine leaves.
As thr kingdom was suffering from an acute shortage of food, the meal intrigued him, and he walked into the kitchen. It was here that the Greek warrior discovered the secret to the constant food supply: the cooks took whatever little bits of meats they could find and cleverly combined it with fresh produce and then wrapping it in vine leaves. Impressed, Alexander made the dish a major part of his military food rotation. Many believe that this was how dolmades travelled and were adopted by the countries that Alexander conquered.
Τhe first written mention of a dish similar to dolmades actually appears in the diaries of a symposiast at one of the banquets of the Iranian King Khusrow II at the start of the 7th century. This is the first clue that this style of preparation had spread far beyond Greece itself.
As it happens, the widespread use of the Turkish term ‘dolma’ in the Mediterranean basin is a testament to the fact that the dish known as dolma was spread through the Ottoman conquests during the 15th and 16th centuries. Recipes for stuffed eggplant have been found in Medieval Arabic cookbooks and the word dolma – of Turkish origin – means ‘something stuffed’ or ‘filled’. In some of the former Ottoman countries, native names have been retained or have blended with Turkish language terms.
For example, in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and in the Syrian city of Damascus, stuffed leaves are called mahshi yabraq or mahshi brag, a combination of the Turkish word for leaf (yaprak) and the Arabic term for stuffed (mahshi).
Several dolma recipes were specifically recorded in 19th-century Iran by Naser al-Din Shah Qajar’s chef, including stuffed vine leaves, cabbage leaves, cucumbers, eggplants, apples, and quinces, with varied fillings prepared with ground meat, sautéed mint leaves, rice and saffron. Iraqi Jewish families have a version of dolma with sweet and sour flavors that were not found in other versions and dolma are part of the cuisine of the Sephardic Jews as well. Jews in the Ottoman Empire used locally-grown grape leaves and adopted the Turkish name of the dish.
During the winter months, cabbage was a staple food for peasants in both Persia and the Ottoman Empire, and it very quickly spread to the Balkans as well. Jews in Eastern Europe learned to prepare variations of stuffed cabbage rolls with kosher meat—this dish is called golubtsy in Russian, holubtsi in Ukrainian, gołąbki in Polish and holishkes in Yiddish and dolma is in fact the secret origin of stuffed cabbage, the most quintessentially-Jewish dish from the Old Country! As meat was expensive, rice was sometimes mixed in with the meat – my grandmother’s Austrian recipe uses this technique!
Jews in Europe would sometimes substitute barley, bread or kasha (barley porridge) for the rice. In the Persian Gulf, basmati rice is preferred, and the flavor of the stuffing may be enhanced using tomatoes, onions and cumin. Cabbage rolls entered Swedish cuisine (where they are known as kåldolmar) after Charles XII, defeated by the Russians at the battle of Poltava, returned to Sweden in 1715 with his Turkish creditors and their cooks.
Dolma can be made with meat or grain fillings, and served with garlic yogurt, tarbiya or sweet and sour sauces made with pomegranate syrup and sour cherries. They are known as dolmeh in Iran, dolmades in Greece, tolma in Armenia, yarpaq dolması in Azerbaijan and yebra in Syria. Egyptians call this main course mahshi (also spelled mashi or mashy), but traditionally, cabbage is used in the winter and vine leaves are used in the summer. Stuffed vine leaves without any meat, called yalancı (fake) dolma in Turkish, are served at room temperature.
As you can see, dolma dishes are found throughout Balkan, Southern Caucasian, Middle Eastern, North African, Mesopotamian, Persian, Israeli, Turkish, Maghrebi and Central Asian cuisine – anywhere the Greeks or the Turks had influence. In 2017, dolma making in Azerbaijan was included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Again – the Greeks invented the dish and I am proud to bring dolmades to you as they are made in Greece (with the sprinkling of TFD pixie dust when it comes to seasoning). They are truly a special item, My Citizens!
Dolmades are by no means difficult to make – but learning the proper rolling technique is critical to achieving ideal textures and neat appearance on the plate. I include the written directions on how to properly roll dolmades in the recipe proper, but a video is worth a thousand words in this case. I found this excellent and brief dolmades rolling video on YouTube and I believe you will find it to be invaluable (it certainly was for Me!):
Now – as to the ingredients you will need to make this recipe in the TFD way! First off, try and use ground heirloom pork as it is both more flavorful and juicy than your common supermarket swine – I endorse Mangalitsa pork as it is the ultimate pork, IMHO – you can buy top-quality ground Mangalitsa pork from this fine purveyor. Vine leaves are the next crucial ingredient – I’m fortunate to live not an hour from Napa Valley and can easily purchase fresh grapevine leaves, in season (they freeze very well). If you have access to them, please do use them as they are superior in every way!
Most of us will make do with grapevine leaves in jars of brine or frozen – this brand on Amazon is a good one. If you use anything other than proper Greek olive oil to make dolmades – you are verily dead unto Me. Please don’t…this is a good brand to use if you don’t have access to a decent one in your home supermarket. I have tweaked the seasoning in the filling to best complement this style of pork – and one somewhat heretical touch is to use one roasted garlic clove amongst the raw, smashed to a paste with a few drops of the Greek anise-flavored liqueur known as Ouzo. Buy at the link.
Arborio rice of good quality (you don’t need top-quality) may be purchased from here on Amazon – and the needed pine nuts in the filling are a source of eternal consternation to Me. The reason? Pine nuts from tress species found in China and Korea are notorious for causing so-called ‘pine nut mouth syndrome‘ – and trust Me, you do NOT want to have it happen to you. Pine nuts from trees outside these species typically do not cause the syndrome and are to be preferred despite their higher price – this is an excellent source for ones that hopefully should not cause any issues.
My version of the classic lemon sauce known as avgolemono is enhanced by a few unique touches, of course. Interestingly, there is another Jewish tie to Greek dolmades via the sauce, as several food historians have traced the origins of avgolemono to southern Europe, suggesting that the recipe travelled to Greece with Sephardic Jews! There is no way to prove this connection – but I like the thought of it! I use a hit of the rare Greek spice known as mastica from the isle of Chios as well as crushed dried wild thyme flowers from the country – both may be purchased at their respective links.
My Citizens – dolmades are a national treasure of Greek cuisine and I am beyond honored to share the proper version of them as made in Greece – no disrespect intended to the Greek-American lamb version should be inferred or construed. The Turks may have been responsible for spreading dolma across Europe, the Levant and the Middle East but it is the Greeks ALONE who came up with them first and certainly the only ones to dress them in such a delicious lemon-based sauce! I hope you see fit to have them grace your table soon, my Citizens!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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