The Recipe

Vegetarian Tangy Mint and Dill Dolmas

As suggested to Lindsay Sterling in Portland, Maine, by a Lebanese friend she bumped into in a Persian market.

Cooking Time: Honestly, it's 2-3 hours hours, but every second of it sheer bliss! Like edible crafting mania.

Serves 8 with leftovers for lunches

4 bunches kale and/or chard
1 cabbage (optional)*
2 potatoes or 3 large carrots, cut into flat planks
1 bell pepper with flat bottom so it sits upright
3 cups rice
1/4 cup dried mint
1/4 cup dried dill
1 Tbsp salt (for rice) + 1 1/2 tsp (for cooking liquid)
5 cloves garlic minced
1 yellow onion minced
juice from 3 lemons or 1/2 tsp citric acid*

Cover the rice 3 times with water and drain each time so the run-off liquid is less milky. Then let soak for 20 min while you get all the other spices out, chop the onion and garlic, and take the big clunky part of the stems out of the kale and chard. For efficiency, fold the leaves in half so you can get the stem out with one slice of the knife, not two. This helps you go faster. Get a pot of boiling water on to blanche the greens (i.e. boil them ever so briefly).

Mix the spices, rice, garlic, salt and onion together in a mixing bowl. Rub the dried mint between your palms if you really want unleash its mojo. (Why wouldn't you? plus I think this is fun - especially for kids. Don't forget to inhale the bliss.) The action of your hands as you do this is the same as when you come in from the cold and rub your hands together in front of a fire, only fresh powdery mint is sprinkling out the bottom into your bowl of rice. Nice!

Boil the greens in bunches in a pot for like 20 seconds, just until they get droopy. Pull them out with tongs to cool/drip dry a little. Then lay the leaves out on the counter. Place a tsp filling in the bottom-center of each leaf. Roll leaf over it like a mini burrito, folding ends in mid way and then finishing the roll.

Cover the bottom of a soup pot generously with oil. Cover the oil with one layer of sliced potatoes or carrot planks (about 1/4 inch thick). You are sacrificing them so the dolmas have no chance of burning on the bottom of the pot, as well as allowing the cooking rice liquid to become essentially a complex veggie broth (with kale, chard, potato, carrot, mint.. etc.).

The way you pack the dolmas in the pot is totally variable. The goal is to tightly pack them and weigh them down so they don't come open when the cooking water that will cover them boils. I like stuffing a colorful bell pepper with rice and putting it in the center (on top of the potatoes or carrots) then putting the dolmas packed tightly around the bell pepper in a spiral pattern like the dolmas are rays of a bell-pepper-sun. The second layer of dolmas can be like rings expanding row after row outward from the bell-pepper. Then the third layer you can make the sun rays shape again. Try to end with a complete layer on top so the next step (plate and weight) works.

Put a plate that fits easily inside the pot upside down on top of the dolmas. Put a glass of water on top of the plate to weigh it down so it's sturdy. Add your cooking liquid, enough salted water and lemon juice or citric acid to cover the plate's edges. Cook on medium high to get a low boil going. Cook until water almost all disappears, but not all - then those potatoes and carrots will definitely burn, and you want to eat them if you can - delish! REmove plate and taste one of the dolmas. Is the rice cooked? Likely the answer is yes! Turn pot over onto a large platter or wooden cutting board to serv. If not... you better add a little more water and let cook a little longer.

*For the cabbage dolmas, stick the cabbage in the freezer over night. Then place in a steamer basket. As the leaves thaw, peel them off the head and they're ready to roll.

Awesome Iraqi Beef Dolmas

As an Iraqi woman taught to Lindsay Sterling during the Catholic Charities of Maine cooking class series, Portland, Maine.

Cooking time: Honestly, it's 2-3 hours hours, but every second of it sheer bliss! Like edible crafting mania. First time takes longer, like everything in life!

1 16 oz jar of grape leaves
and/or: fresh chard leaves, de-stemmed and dipped in boiling water
red onion skins, boiled for 5 minutes
white onion skins, boiled for 5 minutes
2 lbs beef or lamb minced
1 cup uncooked Basmati rice
¾ cup tomato sauce
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried lemon (available in middle-eastern markets)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup Canola oil
4-5 carrots, peeled
Drain grape leaves. Rinse in fresh water. Peel and slice carrots into planks and line bottom of the pot (prevents dolmas from sticking). Soak rice in hot water for ten minutes and drain. In a large bowl, combine rice, beef, onion, garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and all spices. Place each grape leaf vein-side up so that smooth side is on the outside of each roll. Cut off any stem. Place 1 Tbsp of the mixture on leaf near the stem end. Roll top over once, fold ends in, and continue to roll away from you. Repeat with remaining leaves. Arrange rolled grape leaves in a pot, seam side down, tightly packed. Place each layer in opposite direction of previous layer, in a criss-cross fashion. For even cooking, try to have no more than 4 layers. Combine lemon juice and oil and pour over grape leaves. Top with water until approximately 1” below top layer. Place large plate on top, and a heavy weight on plate (a foil-wrapped brick works great). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes until rice is thoroughly cooked. Allow to rest for 20-30 minutes. To remove from pan, get serving platter out, drain off any remaining liquid if any, remove plate from pot, and turn over pot onto platter in one fluid motion so the packed dolmas sit like an overturned cake on the platter.

Copyright Lindsay Sterling Oct. 2011, beef dolma recipe courtesy of Catholic Charities of Maine and the woman who wrote it up for them.