Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves); Photo - Danielle SucherWe sailed around the Cyclades in Greece a few summers ago, and while we felt that the cuisine on the islands became tedious after a while, there were a few things we never tired of: dolmas, spanikopita, and milk pies.

Our dolmas are a bit of a stretch from traditional Greek or Turkish stuffed grape leaves, which sometimes call for pine nuts but never hazelnuts, and which can call for currants or meat but rarely both at the same time. We think that hazelnuts and garlic were meant for each other, truly, and that meat can always be improved with a little fruit.

To be fair, we're still holding a bit of a grudge against Greek traditions, anyways. When we tried to visit the island of Delos, we were turned away because the center of the ancient world was closed on Mondays.

We'd still kill for a good Greek milk pie recipe, mind.

Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
(inspired by Apricots on the Nile: A Memoir with Recipes by Colette Rossant)
For the filling
1 1/2 lb ground lamb (you can substitute beef or pork, but lamb is better)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 lb hazelnuts, ground
2 2/3 C rice
1 oz fresh parsley, minced
1 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1/3 C lemon juice
1/2 C olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Everything else
A big jar of grape leaves
1/3 C olive oil
2 1/4 C water (or chicken stock)
Optional: lemon juice and/or yogurt for serving

Rinse off the grape leaves in cold running water. Place them in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain and let them cool as you construct the filling.

Mix all the filling ingredients together. There, your filling is constructed!

One by one, spread out each grape leaf shiny side down. Pinch off the bit of stem that's sticking out and set it aside. In the center of the leaf place about 1-2 tbsp filling, shaped into a small log. Roll up the leaf according to the second set of instructions here. (You can find another good set of instructions for rolling up the leaves here, too.)

Once you've stuffed all the grape leaves you can, find a heavy-bottomed saucepan large enough to contain them. Cover the bottom with a layer of loose grape leaves, the left-over ugly ones or any spares, and throw in those pinched off stems, too. Cover that with a layer of stuffed grape leaves, packed tightly, seam side down. Arrange another layer on top of that, continuing until all the stuffed grape leaves are in there. Cover with another layer of loose grape leaves. Pour the olive oil and water or stock in over that.

Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour, or until done.

Serve hot or cold. (I prefer them cold, but it's really just a matter of taste.) Optionally, you can drizzle lemon juice on top and serve them with greek yogurt for dipping on the side.

Shopping Guide

You can find grape leaves for sale in gourmet food stores. We buy ours at D'Vine on 7th Ave. between Garfield Place and Carroll Street in Park Slope. There's a fellow working there who is a guiding light in our lives - if you are lost, he will find exactly what you need and advise you on how to use it with great exuberance.