These are the best meat dolmades ever and the recipe is from Pseiras Taverna, Nafplion! Fani, the chef, makes this Greek specialty with two types of rice, white which absorbs more liquid and yellow which holds its shape and prevents the stuffing becoming mushy. However, Calrose or short grain rice works well.
60 (approx. 240 g) vine leaves, fresh, frozen or vacuum packed in brine
1 kg beef mince
1 large (200 g) red onion, grated
½ bunch dill, finely chopped
1 handful dried spearmint, leaves rubbed between the palms (or 2 tbsp dried mint)
1 cup (200 g) short grain rice (or a mix of yellow and white)
1 tsp salt, or more, to taste
150 ml olive oil
⅓ cup (80 ml) water (approximately)
2 cups fresh tomato sauce
2 tbsp (40 g) butter, diced
1 lemon, juiced, or more, to taste
crusty bread, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Blanch vine leaves in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then refresh in batches of cold water to cool.
Combine mince, onion, dill, dried spearmint, rice, salt, 100 ml olive oil and enough water to bind the mixture.
Place the vine leaves on a flat surface with the ribs facing upwards and the stalk end facing towards you. Place a teaspoon of stuffing (varying slightly with the size of the leaf) towards the stalk end of the leaf. Firmly roll the stalk end over leaf, then tuck in the sides and roll up completely. Place seam side down in a large casserole dish. Place close together, in layers, so they don’t unravel.
Season with salt and pepper and pour over fresh tomato sauce, ½ cup (125 ml) water (or more if dolmades seem dry) and remaining olive oil. Top with diced butter. Place two dinner plates on top of the dolmades to weigh them down. Cover and cook for about 40 minutes until meat is cooked, or if cooking in a pressure cooker for about 15 minutes.
Remove dinner plates, add lemon juice and serve dolmades with cooking liquid poured over as a sauce. Mop up with crusty bread.
• In winter, O Pseiras serve this with avgolemono rather than tomato sauce, made by beating together 3 eggs, 100 ml lemon juice and slowly adding in a cup of sauce removed from the cooking pot. This is then poured back over the dolmades in the pot.