Great Gallopin’ Grapevines, Batman!

While using up my bag of mixed greens from Pitchfork and Crow this past week, I found myself selecting out the kale and chard leaves, but saving the collards for another use since I’ve never actually worked with them before. These were tender baby collards, not the standard elephant-ear variety you usually see, and they reminded me so much of grape leaves that I decided to make them into dolmades. To prepare the leaves for wrapping, I trimmed the stems, running my knife flat along the back where they were thickest to shave them flat and flexible. I cut the few larger ones in half, then gave all 10 pieces a dunk in boiling salted water for about 10 seconds to blanch them.

As a filling for my dolmades, I wanted to use up some leftover bulgur pilaf with onion, garlic, chard stems and greens; to this, I added a squeeze of lemon, a bit of cumin and shredded mint, plus a small amount of ground beef. My ten rolled dolmades were small enough to fit in a ceramic loaf pan; I poured in enough chicken stock tinted with tomato paste to just cover them, then topped off the dish with a sheet of parchment and two ramekins for weight. They baked for 35 minutes and rested for about half an hour to come down toward room temperature while I stirred up a dipping sauce of yogurt, garlic, lemon, salt, and tahini. The finished products were very messy to eat, falling apart (thanks to my pitiful rolling skills) and gushing juices down my wrist; but the flavor was there, the collards were very tender (aside from a few stringy veins), and I have another use for that excess bulgur.

As I was putting that tiny offering of collard dolmades into the oven to braise, I racked my brain for more food options, as I doubted they would be sufficient to satisfy us. I ended up just cooking up some rice for bulk. But, what I realized a bit too late for that night’s dinner, is that I could make dolmades anytime. I have a grape vine in my backyard, people—a decorative grapevine planted by the previous owners of the house, which produces some sort of tiny champagne grape that we never notice until too late because of the huge foliage. For the past 9 years, I could have been making dolmades with freshly picked, unsprayed grape leaves, and instead, I’ve just been wrestling all those vines into the yard debris container.

I couldn’t resist. While the collard dolmades cooked, I sorted through the tangle and chose some likely looking leaves—about palm-sized, neither too large and tough, nor too small and delicate. I rinsed them thoroughly, bundled them up in groups of 6, tied with kitchen twine, and blanched them in hot salted water for 10 seconds, much like the collards. They went into the refrigerator overnight, and starred in night #2 of the dolma take-over.

For the fresh leaves, I decided on a more traditional Greek recipe from The Food and Wine of Greece, a vegetarian stuffing of lentils and rice since I didn’t have any ground lamb. I reduced all the amounts so as not to make a huge pile of food, and used a grain blend that included brown, red, black and wild rice. I cooked some brown lentils for 15 minutes first, with just a bay leaf and a smashed garlic clove, then added the rice along with more water and pinches of cinnamon and lemon zest, and let it all simmer for 35 more minutes. When the filling base was done, I combined it with a cup of crushed tomatoes, a little sautéed onion and garlic, splashes of lemon juice and olive oil, and a bit of shredded mint. Then I rolled them up and stashed them in a shallow oval casserole, on a bed of some of the larger grape leaves.

Like the collard dolmades, I topped my little rolls with a braising liquid, in this case chicken stock and a bit of tomato sauce; also similarly, they were topped with parchment, weighted, and gently cooked at 350F for 35 minutes, then allowed to cool somewhat before eating with some leftover yogurt sauce.

If I’m honest, we didn’t like these as well. Maybe we were missing the meat in the filling, maybe we’re not used to fresh grape leaves (which Jeremy described as “too fruity”), maybe we’re just not Greek enough. I do think I chose leaves of the right size, but I just didn’t care for the flavor of this version. I’ve set aside one more batch of blanched grape leaves in the freezer, so next time I’ll try making dolmades with lamb. But not for a while—I think we’re all dolma’d out for the time being, and ready to move on to the loukoumades!

This post is linked up with Tuesday Twister and Two for Tuesdays.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

8 thoughts on “Great Gallopin’ Grapevines, Batman!

  1. July 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Looks delicious

  2. July 13, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Julie! I am so laughing at the not greek enough comment! I AM greek enough, but fresh grapeleaves are too fruity for dolmas. Most folks ferment them or marinate them after blanching to give them a better flavor and more flexible texture. Try that next time if you liked the idea, but weren’t keen on the outcome. I love your collard substitution–kind of like a cross between a stuff cabbage and a stuffed grapeleaf! Awesome stuff and thanks for sharing on the two for tuesday recipe blog hop! I grabbed your RSS feed! 🙂 Alex

  3. July 13, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Alex… good to know we’re not alone. What should I marinate the blanched grape leaves in? That is a perfect description of the collard dolmades! Actually, I’m very tempted to use collards the next time I have a hankering for cabbage rolls too, since they come as separate leaves already and hold up so well with braising.

  4. July 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    How awesome! I love the thought of using the collards in place of grape leaves. And ya know, when I first starting stuffing fresh grape leaves, I think I noticed that difference too…I chalk it up to the lack of salt (preservation for the regular ones we find jarred)…I really think that has something to do with it!! But I felt the same way without meat in my stuffing, too! That said…YUM! Thanks so much for sharing with Two for Tuesdays this week =)

  5. July 13, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I absolutely love the idea of making these with collard greens – I have never had a dolmade but I love stuffed cabbage. I think these would be better received by my children. Glad you linked up to Two for Tuesdays!

  6. July 13, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    How creative. I’ve still got a few collards and kale hanging on in my garden, despite the heat, I may have to give this a try. Thank you for linking up with Two for Tuesdays!

  7. July 14, 2010 at 5:07 am

    I like the idea of using the collards for making dolmas! I make polish stuffed cabbage rolls quite often and have made dolmas with grape leaves a couple of times and the idea of using collards reminds me of a combo of the two. Great idea! I discovered some wild grape vines on my property recently (I thought my husband had destroyed them all, but he missed this one) and picked some nice young but big leaves last weekend and lacto-fermented them. I’m going to pick some leaves every few weeks or so when the young, tender leaves have grown enough and lacto-ferment them so I can use them to make dolmas throughout the year. You should try lacto-fermenting the fresh leaves – its seriously super easy and they will work great for your next batch of dolmas!

  8. July 14, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    girlichef, have you gotten used to the taste of the unpreserved grape leaves with time?

    Christy and Butterpoweredbike, please do give the stuffed collards a try and let me know what you think!

    Sara, lacto-fermentation sounds like a great way to deal with the grape leaves. I haven’t quite progressed to that level yet, but I’ve been looking into it quite a bit lately.

Leave a Reply