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I was cruising around e2 and I saw a dish that I was quite familiar with. At least I thought I was. My enthusiastic clicking led me to a curious permutation of my beloved dish. It's a recipe for preparing stuffed grape leaves, just. . . well, it's not the way God intended. Seriously, putting raisins in grape leaves? Just cut the shit, stuff it full of granola and move to California. My Greek heritage immediately took over and forced the transcription of a worthy recipe. This is a Greek dish, damnit, which means it must contain olive oil, oregano and (barring desserts) lamb.

With that in mind, I will tell you that for non-Mediterranean people out there, this dish may take some getting used to. In America, lamb hardly ever makes it to the table--even when you order gyros, it's a mix of meat that is typically 60% or more beef, depending on how un-ethnic the establishment is. The unfamiliar taste of lamb, along with the multitude of other strong flavors, may keep the uninitiated away. But damnit, we're e2; we're elite!

This is the recipe my family uses for stuffed grape leaves. Except we don't call them "stuffed grape leaves"--it's "dolmades" (dole-mod-ay's). And for the double word Greek score, it's pronounced "yeeros" and not "gyros" alright?!

Harvest the following:

  • 1.5 lbs ground lamb
  • 2 cups orzo
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 0.5 cup of olive oil
  • 1.5 tablespoons crushed dried mint
  • 1.5 tablespoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste
  • 2 1 lb jar grapevine leaves in brine
    Note: you probably won't need a full two jars, but better safe than sorry, unless you have another good recipe for ground lamb and orzo
  • 1 large lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • juice of 2 fresh lemons

Preparation

  1. Combine the lamb, orzo, onion, olive oil, mint, oregano, salt, pepper and tomato paste in a large bowl. This will be the filling.

  2. Now really combine them. Using your hands, mix all of the ingredients from Step 1 thoroughly. Yes, you'll get dirty, but you'll live to node another day.

  3. Wash your hands very well. The following steps require good dexterity and the grease + oil olive residue won't help you.

  4. Open one of the jars of grape leaves. If at some point you run out of this batch of grape leaves, open the other. Remove the grape leaves without tearing them apart.
    Note: I know in my heart that it's a bitch and a half to get those leaves out. My experience tells me to drain half the brine, then reach in the neck and pinch the top end of the roll into as much of a point as you can. Using as many fingers as possible, grip the top of the roll and slowly but forcefully pull it out of the jar. As more of the roll protrudes from the top, grasp it with your hand and slowly pull it out. You cannot tear these leaves!

  5. Unroll the leaf log and place your stack of grape leaves on a plate.

  6. Peel a few grape leaves from the stack and cover the bottom of your pot with them. This is to prevent the dolmades from burning, so cover the bottom surface and the bottom vertical inch of the pot wall for good measure.

  7. Now the fun part: rolling! This could probably have its own node like other great rolling pastimes but not today. Jeeves, a sub-list!
    1. Place one grape leaf in front of you. Orient it such that the stem is pointing straight at you and the light underside of the leaf, with the veins, is face up.

    2. Now get acquainted with the leaf. There should be five lobes to it. First the largest one opposite the stem, pointing straight away from you. Second, note the two bottom lobes that extend below the point where the stem meets the leaf. These should be the smallest lobes. Lastly, the two remaining lobes are the medium sized lobes extending outward between the previously identified top and bottom lobes. Examine the leaf for holes. If the leaf has any holes that are too large, set it aside. What makes a hole too large? We'll get there, but if you've just started to earn your Dolmade Merit Badge, only work with leaves that have no holes.

    3. Now grab a half tablespoon's worth of lamb and orzo filling. Place it just above the point where the stem meets the leaf. Oh, and pinch the stem off. You can safely throw it away unless you have a compost pile or some hitherto unknown killer grape leaf stem recipe. If you have that recipe, /msg me. For bonus points, tie a knot in the stem.

    4. The goal is to roll the grape leaf into a cylinder. Remember this. Look up at the top lobe and find the widest length across it. Using that distance as a guide, shape your blob of filling into a horizontal line that is just smaller than that width.

    5. Now take the two smallest lobes, one a time, and fold them diagonally towards the center of the leaf. The most important idea here is to completely cover what will be the rounded ends of your cylinder. Since each leaf is different, the lobe ratios may be off. Remove some of the filling and try again if you're facing a physical impossibility. If there are any holes in these bottom lobes, set the leaf aside. Use it as a patch later on; tear off sections of patch leaves to cover non-catastrophic holes in other leaves. By the way, if you haven't noticed yet, over the next hour or so you're going to find every cut, scratch, ding, scrape, slice and break in your skin, thanks to the briny deep.

    6. Begin to roll the filling lump upward toward the top lobe. Aim for snug rolls because tight rolls may rupture while cooking. Fold the middle lobes inward so that they do not extend beyond the length of your cylinder. Make damn sure that no filling is visible around the ends when you're rolling it up. The narrowest part on the leaf, where the lower and middle lobes meet, can be problematic for newbies. You may need to unroll your construct at this point and readjust the foldings of the lower lobes or remove some meat. If you see a hole in the leaf at this point, patch it with a defective leaf.

    7. Assuming that no meat is visible, continue rolling the lump towards the tip of the top lobe. If you have rolled it all the way up and meat is still visible through the slit between the lower lobes, right above where the stem was, you have too much meat for that size leaf. Unroll, remove meat, roll again, do not pass go, do not collect $200. If things went well, you should have maybe a half inch of overlap where the tip of the top lobe extends past where the stem used to be. If you have a little more, that's fine. If you have a lot more, you should be putting more meat into leaves of that size.

    8. Now put the dolma in the pot. Place it such that the tip of the top lobe is down and will be held in place by the weight of the dolma. Begin to fill the pot by placing the dolmades against the wall of the pot and form concentric circles as your fill the pot. Once you cover the bottom of the pot with dolmades-circles, start a new layer and place them the same way.

    9. Continue to roll dolmades until you're out of filling or leaves, which ever comes first.

  8. Oh my God, a pound and a half of lamb later and we're here. You actually have to say that aloud, it's part of the process.

  9. Now slowly pour in enough cold water to barely cover the leaves. Squeeze the juice of at least one large lemon over this.

  10. Find a sandwich plate or saucer that fits inside your pot and lay this over the dolmades to prevent them from unrolling while they cook.

  11. Cover the pot and bring to a slow boil. Simmer about 1.5 hours or until the orzo is tender.

  12. Allow the dolmades to sit in the pot for 15 minutes before serving. You, however, are not allowed to sit.

  13. Separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff.

  14. Add the yolks to the whites and beat until blended.

  15. Beat in your lemon juice until mixed.

Viola! We are done, except for the eating part. I recommend that you gather your friends and family for the holidays and go crazy with these. You may serve the dolmades right after the prescribed 15 minutes, along with the lemon sauce on top. Personally, I would serve the lemon sauce to anyone who asked, then dump the rest back in the pot on top of the remaining dolmades. I'm sure these things are tasty right off the stove-bat, but my fondest memories involve gobbling a few in the early morning hours, basking bleary eyed in the light of the refrigerator. They also freeze very well so you can save them for another day.

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