I find it annoying that so-called dolmas are the only stuffed leaves known to the American consumer ; furthermore, they are most often than not stringy, rubbery, tough, greasy, little bundles. In reality, stuffed grape leaves and swiss chard leaves should always be meltingly tender!
If you do not have access to tender, young grape leaves, by all means use swiss chard leaves (selek), which are used interchangeably in Lebanese cuisine. Swiss chard is a wonderful vegetable; full of vitamins, iron, calcium, fiber, beats spinach as a powerful antioxidant leafy green.
When prepared the way I will describe, you will have to stop yourself from eating the whole plate. No chewing required!
INGREDIENTS: To serve a crowd of 15 people. Quantity of ingredients can be halved, or tripled.
- 1 1/2 cups of rice (sushi rice or Egyptian medium-grain), soaked in water 30 minutes and drained.
- 4 bunches of swiss chard, with nice unbroken leaves.
- 1 large onion chopped very finely (6 oz.)
- 1 bunch of parsley, washed, dried, chopped fine and stems discarded
- 10 mint leaves, chopped fine or 2 Tablespoons of dried mint, crumbled.
- 3 very large tomatoes, chopped fine (8-12 oz.)
- 4 large lemons, juiced to equal 6 oz.
- 3/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large potatoes, scrubbed and sliced in 1/4 in slices, to line the pot and cover it completely
- salt, pepper 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, or cinnamon, or allspice, or a combination of all, to taste 1 Tablespoon of pomegranate molasses, optional 2 cups of water to cook the leaves in.
- Place all the stuffing ingredients in a bowl: Drained rice, diced tomatoes, chopped parsley and mint, chopped onion. Add the spices and mix well. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil and 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice and mix well. Set aside. (If you are using pomegranate molasses, you will add it at this point to the stuffing).
- Prepare the swiss chard leaves: Wash the leaves and cut off the hard stem and larger veins. Set aside. Take the leaves and cut them in squares, about 4 inches by 4 inches. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, drop the leaves and the stems and veins (coarsely chopped) to the pot and boil the leaves for a few seconds until the leaves are wilted. Drain the pot of its water (you can reserve the water). Let the leaves cool for a few minutes.
- Line the pot with thickly cut potato slices.
- Take one leaf at a time, place a tablespoon of stuffing towards the edge and roll the leaves like a cigar. Place each stuffed leaf in the pot, over the potato slices, in a concentric fashion, until the pot has been filled with stuffed leaves. Try not to leave any room, the leaves need to be packed tightly.
- Cover the stuffed leaves with a small plate, to keep them tightly in place. Place the pot over medium heat.
- Add 2 cups of the water in which the chard leaves have boiled, and 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Pour the juice remaining from the stuffing, any extra lemon juice (or a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate molasses) into the pot.
- Cover the pot and bring it to a simmer. Let it simmer gently for about 45 minutes. Uncover the pot and let it cool a bit, then taste one of the leaves to check if the rice is thoroughly cooked. Let the pot cool.
- When ready to serve, take out the small plate, hold a large platter over the pot, and invert the pot onto the platter.
- You can either eat the potatoes with the leaves or make them into a salad, with some additional lemon juice and olive oil if needed.
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