This is the epitome of a Lebanese-style dolmas; the grape leaves are picked fresh (and the freh grape leaves are sold at Middle-Eastern stores )or you can use the brined ones. The zucchinis are much maller and sweeter; you can cut them in half if you like (I did that for decades, leaving one inch of pulp at the bottom and top). It is the type of dish that would please a table of guests and is perfect for a crockpot; it needs slow cooking to taste the best.
INGREDIENTS: 4 servings (up to 8)
- 8 small lamb chops or shoulder chops or lamb bones (less is fine)
- 2 lbs zucchinis `if giant, cut in half, just don’t core all the way, leave room for the rice to expand
- 1 lb. brined or fresh grape leaves
- 1/4lb ground beef (or lamb or a combo or beef and lamb)
- 1 cup medium-grain rice (such as sushi, caltrose, Egyptian, Italian, Turkish)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 1 1/2 tsp salt, as needed
- 1/2 tsp black pepper or white pepper or paprika
- 1/2 cup lemon juice (more if needed or replace with water)
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste or pomegranate molasses + a dash of sugar
- 1/2 cup olive oil (more if needed)
- water, as needed (1 or more cups)
- 1 lb. yogurt, to serve
1. Season and fry the lamb chops or bones in the pot itself, about 3 minutes on each side. Set the pot aside and focus on the stuffing for the zucchinis and grape leaves. Place all the stuffing ingredients in a bowl, adding tomato paste, spices, a dash of sugar, if desired and mixing the stuffing briefly. Now, focus your attention on assembling the dish, starting with the zucchinis or grape leaves. When stuffing the zucchinis, if they are extra long, cut in half and leave 1/2 ” in order to allow for the rice to expand.
2. Core the zucchini (there are special extra-long corers available at all `Middle-Eastern stores), fill them with one or two tablespoon of stuffing; place the stuffed zucchinis at the bottom of the pot over the chops or lamb bones; this is done in order to protect them from bruising while cooking . When the zucchinis have been used us, start stuffing the grape leaves, placing one tablespoon in the middle of each leaf (see pic) and folding each leaf gently. Place each stuffed leaf on top of a stuffed zucchini going around the pot until all has been filled.
3. Place a small dessert plate on the pot to hold the stuffed veggies in place; mix the olive oil, lemon juice and water and pour over the pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 45 minutes or so. Uncover and check to make sure the stuffing is fully cooked. Cool and serve warm or lukewarm with a bowl of yogurt on the side.
Serve warm with a bowl of plain yogurt on the side for a grandiose feast, `Lebanese-style.
Preparing ahead: You can cook this halfway and freeze the entire pot; to reheat the day of the party, just go very slowly on the back burner with a cover and cook with a gentle bubble for 30 minutes or until all are meltingly tender.