Nadia Stokes shares her grandmother’s recipe for a traditional eastern Mediterranean dish, recreated by Victoria Brown: vine leaves stuffed with meat and herbs
Nadia learned to make vine leaves with her grandmother in Cyprus. One of her favourite parts of the process was going out and collecting the fresh leaves. In London she lives near a small, organic vineyard run by the local community in Enfield. “I called them up one day and said ‘Could I please come and collect some of your vine leaves? I just really, really miss them’ and they said, ‘Yeah sure, come, knock yourself out.’” If you aren’t lucky enough to have an organic vineyard on your doorstep, then she says the ones you can get in a jar, dry or in brine, are fine.
Nadia was particularly keen to share this recipe because she thinks that the dolmades “that you get in the shops here are an abomination”. Two key differences with the ones from her childhood are that her recipe contains meat—“if you do them just with rice, we call them orphans”—and they are served warm.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
500g free range kid goat mince or lamb mince
½ cup baldo rice
Juice of 1 lemon
100g parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp dried mint
Approx 50 vine leaves
250g Greek yoghurt
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Brown the mince, stirring constantly to break it up. Add the onions and cook until softened. Add the tomato paste and stir thoroughly.
Remove from the heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients, except for the vine leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Leave to cool.
Prepare the vine leaves by soaking in cold water then rinsing. Add to a saucepan and cover with cold water. Simmer for 30 mins or until the leaves begin to soften a little. Remove from the heat and cool with cold water.
To roll the dolmades, place a vine leaf on your worktop with the veins facing upwards. Place 1-2 heaped tsp at the base of the leaf in the centre. Fold the bottom over, then each side to create an envelope, then roll forward. Don’t roll too tightly, as the rice will expand when cooked.
Save the large or torn leaves to line the base of a large saucepan with a single layer of leaves. Place the dolmades in the pan, folded side down and pack them as tightly as possible so they stay wrapped. Place a heatproof plate on top then add a cup of water. You want to braise, rather than boil them.
Cook over a low heat for approximately 30 mins. Serve warm with fresh bread and Greek yoghurt.
Recipe: Nadia Stokes
Images: Victoria Brown