The sun is shining. The grape leaves are large, but young and supple. The zucchini are blossoming on the rediculously large number of plants I planted this year. The mint has grown tall in the lower field near the grapes and ollaberries. I need an entry for Waiter, There's Something in My...Stuffed Fruit/Vegetable, being hosted by Jeanne at Cooksister.
Inspiration came twice. First I decided to make dolmas, a dish that I've long enjoyed, but never made. Dolmas are grape leaves stuffed with a mixture that usually contains rice and mint. Sometimes they have ground meat, sometimes currants, cinnamon, allspice or other spices. I found a recipe that only needed a few changes at Great Party Recipes website.
My version uses yellow onion, a different amount of tomato and green onion, and more lemon zest. It also used fresh grape leaves, since I have them in abundance. We don't have a vineyard, but there is a prolific set of vines in the lower field and they are very happy this year. The next idea I had was to make stuffed zucchini flowers. The stuffing recipe I decided to use, which I found at the CUESA website, also used mint. I followed the recipe closely, except that I made mine minis by putting a couple of stuffed flowers into small souffle dishes.
The dolmas were easy to do, but took some time. A good tip is that when preparing the mint, roll a few leaves together and make a chiffonade like with basil, then cut across the shreds to mince them. I discovered that because I was using fresh grape leaves that they were different sizes and needed differing amounts of filling. I also found that placing the filling far enough into the leaf that I could fold the stem end on top of it, rather than placing the filling right at the stem, seemed to work well. After they were cooked and cooled I sampled one. It was even better than at the deli. The taste was fresher and the lemon was zingy. I'll be doing this one again.
The stuffed zucchini blossoms were delicious, but the blossoms themselves sort of got lost in the filling and crumbs. If I make them again I'll go easier on the crumb mixture. There was left over filling from both recipes, so, for lunch, I mixed them togehter in a skillet, added freshly steamed zucchini slices and heated it all up. That went very well with the stuffed zucchini blossoms.
Fresh mint and even zucchini blossoms are available in season at farmers' markets. You can purchase grape leaves in brine. These are both tasty dishes for a meal when you are doing small dishes. Dolmas make great appetizers, too. Ones with meat are served hot and ones without meat are served at room temperature.
35-40 large fresh grape leaves, rinsed to remove any impurities, or 8 ounces grape leaves, in brine (about 40-45 leaves)
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups cooked long grain rice
2 green onions or scallions, finely chopped
½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1 tablespoon zest of lemon
½ teaspoon fresh lavender flowers, chopped (optional)
Salt to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
boiling water (about 1 cup)
Blanch the grape leaves in boiling water, drain in a colander, running cold water over them to cool them. Set aside to cool while making the filling. Alternately, if you are using grape leaves in brine, place them in a large heat-proof bowl. Pour just enough boiling water over the leaves to cover and let them soak for about 20 minutes. Drain again and rinse under cold running water.
Filling: Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir often to keep them from burning or becoming too brown. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the rice, mint, lemon zest, lavender, and pine nuts. Mix thoroughly; making sure the rice is well-coated with oil. Taste and add salt if needed, to taste.
Line the bottom of a shallow pan or skillet, with a tight fitting lid, with grape leaves. Take the rest of the cooled grape leaves to your work area. Spread out one grape leaf in front of you, vein side up and stem end toward you. Place 1- 2 teaspoons of the rice mixture in the center, fold stem end over the filling, bring the sides of the leaf toward the center and roll tightly, forming a cylinder. Repeat until all the filling or all the grape leaves are used. As you finish each cylinder, place it on top of the grape leaves in the skillet, seam side down, placing the cylinders close to each other, touching. If at all possible, keep them in a single layer.
Drizzle with the lemon juice and ¼ cup of olive oil. Add enough boiling water to almost cover the dolmas. Cover the pan tightly and simmer for ½ hour. Remove from heat and let the dolmas cool in the pan. Serve at room temperature. Garnish serving platter with lemon slices if desired.
Adapted from a recipe at www.greatpartyrecipes.com