Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Uncle D's Cypriot dolma-dakia

Photo courtesy of Saffron Papa

Uncle D, a good friend of Saffron Papa and Mama's, is Greek Cypriot and has a great interest in food and travel. As you can imagine, we bonded almost instantly (g).

For many years, Saffron Mama has raved about his dolma-dakia. Imagine my joy, then, when he offered to make these special stuffed vine leaves for the big do for my parents' 40th anniversary. Never one to let a foodie opportunity go by, I cheekily finagled having the making of these delectable parcels done at Saffron Papa and Mama's to see how it is done myself. A long-time fan of stuffed everything, I have scores of recipes for stuffed vine leaves, but no access to the leaves. So this was my maiden dolma-dakia voyage.

The actual dolma rolling was very easy and the vine leaves much more forgiving than I had imagined. Leaves a bit small? Rip up some less perfect specimens to make up the size. Tears in a leaf? Just patch it up the same way!

Like kibbe, jiaozi/gyoza and other fiddly stuffed foods made in great quantities, the process of making dolma-dakia is quite relaxed and convivial. Uncle D and I quickly stuffed a huge pan of over 1 kg of mince into leaves, but I could have kept going all afternoon. Once rolled, the little packets were layered in tight circles in a pot and refrigerated for further cooking on the day of the party.

These are meat-stuffed dolma-dakia, but I have it on good authority that Uncle D also makes a killer vegetarian version. Can't wait to try that one next time, Uncle D!

Uncle D's Cypriot dolma-dakia

Serves many

1 kg lean minced beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
1 small handful fresh mint, chopped finely
1 tsp mixed spice
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 400 g tin tomatoes
1 empty tomato tin of water
1 cup long-grain rice
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
salt & pepper
800 g fresh vine leaves

150-200 ml lemon juice

1 For the filling: Begin browning the mince and add the onions, herbs, mixed spice, tinned tomatoes, water, tomato paste, rice and lemon juice before the mince is fully browned. Season well with salt and pepper. Cook for around 5 minutes, then leave to cool. The rice will continue to absorb the liquid as the filling cools.

2 For the vine leaves: If tender, pour boiled water over and leave for 5 minutes, then drain. If less tender, place in a saucepan, cover with cold water and simmer for 4 minutes, then drain. Any unused vine leaves can be frozen for later use. If the veins on the leaf are still tough, you can cut out the thickest part, but you should try to keep the integrity of the leaf intact.

3 To roll dolma-dakia: Place 1 prepared vine leaf vein side down with the point facing away from you. Place around 1 tbsp of the cooled mince mixture cross-wise on the leaf at the place where the veins meet up. The amount of filling you need will depend on the size of the leaf. Fold up the two flaps of leaf closest to you, and roll away from yourself, squeezing down on the filling and tucking the edges in neatly as you go. Do not roll too tightly as the dolma will swell further when cooked. Place rolled dolma in tight layers in a pot large enough to hold them. Refrigerate until needed.

4 To cook: Pour on most of the lemon juice and enough water to come halfway up the side of the topmost layer of dolmas. The cooking liquid should be quite tart. Add remaining lemon juice, if required. Weigh dolmas down with a plate to prevent them moving or splitting during cooking. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for half an hour or so. Serve cool as part of a meze table.


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