DOLMADES - GRAPE LEAVES STUFFED WITH RICE, ONIONS, AND HERBS
- 16- ounce jar grape leaves packed in brine or about 45 fresh grape leaves 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 large onions peeled and finely chopped (about 4 cups)
- 1 cup finely chopped scallions
- 1 cup long-grain rice
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1/3 cup finely chopped mint leaves
- 1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup finely chopped dill
- 1 cup dark raisins optional 1⁄2 cup pine nuts, optional
- Sea salt, to taste
- Strained juice of 2 lemons
- Pepper, to taste
If using brined leaves, carefully remove them from the jar and rinse very well under cold water. Both brined and fresh leaves will need a bit of blanching to soften. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and blanch the grape leaves, in batches, for 2-3 minutes. Remove to a colander and rinse with cold water.
Heat 3-4 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy skillet and add the onions. Toss to coat with oil. Place the lid on the pan, lower the heat, and steam the onions for 8 - 10 minutes, until wilted and lightly colored. Rinse the rice and drain it as the onions cook. Add the rice to the to the skillet and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir another minutes or so. Add 2/3 cup water. Cook until absorbed. Remove from heat and toss in herbs. Season with salt and pepper, and toss with 2 more tablespoons of raw olive oil. Add the raisins and pine nuts, if using.
Separate the ripped grape leaves from the rest. Rub the bottom of a large casserole or stewing pot with two tablespoons of olive oil, and spread a few of the torn leaves on top, just enough to cover the surface. To expedite the laborious task of rolling up the grape leaves, do it assembly line style: Place, vein-side up, as many leaves as will fit on the kitchen table or counter, snip off the tough stem, and place approximately 1 scant tablespoon (less for the smaller ones) of filling on the bottom center of each leaf. Fold in the sides and roll up from the base, tucking in the sides a little as you go.
Place the grape leaves snugly next to one another, seam-side down, inside the pan, in several layers if necessary. Drizzle with remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and just enough water to cover. Place a plate inside the pot over the grape leaves as a weight to keep them from opening during cooking. Cover the pot with its lid and simmer the grape leaves over low heat for about 40 minutes, until the leaves are tender and the rice cooked. Remove, cool slightly and serve.