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There aren’t many Greek recipes in my kitchen repertoire – nor in those of characters in my books so far. Apart from dolmades that is.

Dolmades are easy to make – far better than shop bought – and what better day to make them than either 25 March (Independence Day when Greece broke free of the Ottoman Empire in 1821) or 26 January (when it started smashing the chains of Austerity)?

Armenian dolmaVine leaves can be stuffed with anything from sardines to minced lamb, but here’s my basic vegetarian version.

(You’ll see packets of preserved vine leaves in any good deli. I find the ones in jars tend to be more bitter.)

1. Rinse your vine leaves to get rid of the brine they’re packed in. Trim the stalks if they are thick and coarse.

(If you are thinking of preparing your own fresh vine leaves from your garden for dolmades – sure doesn’t every Irish garden have a grapevine? – here’s a great guide. And don’t forget: blanched savoy cabbage leaves can work well too – just remember that bit about removing tough stalks.)

2. Gently fry a finely chopped onion in a drizzle of olive oil till softened. Allow it to cool.

3. In a mixing bowl, mix together:

  • The cooked onion
  • Some chopped fresh parsley and mint or dill
  • A pinch each of salt, black pepper and sugar
  • A generous handful of long-grain rice (uncooked)

(Other mixtures would also include minced lamb or turkey, tomato puree, garlic, a pinch of cinnamon and dried oregano, but we’ll keep it simple here).

4. Lay out about six or eight vine leaves at a time, uncurling their corners so they’re totally flat, and place a teaspoon heaped soup spoon of the ricey mixture on each leaf. Roll it up into a parcel, making sure that the mixture is fully enclosed.

(It should look like a sort of fat cigar or spring roll. This is the only slightly fiddly bit. It takes a certain knack.)

5. Line the bottom of a large saucepan with the parcels, tightly packed. Cover – only just – with some stock (I use chicken stock,  though a veggie stock cube and hot water are fine) and simmer gently for 45 minutes.

(An alternative to the saucepan method is to bake the dolmades parcels in an oven at 180C for the same amount of time. Use a large ovenproof dish and line its bottom first with a layer of tomato slices or leftover vine leaves).

6. Allow to cool. Drizzle on lemon juice and perhaps a glug of extra virgin olive oil, serve with black olives and feta cheese. Enjoy. Απολαύστε το! (Isn’t Google Translate great?)

(Strictly speaking, dolma – stuffed vegetable dishes – aren’t unique to Greece. They are common all over the Middle East and further afield. The image above by ArmOvak is of an Armenian version of dolma.)

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