Just like many other Greek dishes, there seems to be a mystery about this little grape leaf that is stuffed, rolled, cooked and covered in an egg-lemon sauce. This little bite of irresistible deliciousness has been a popular staple not only in Greek households but Turkish as well. This amazing stuffed grape leaf traveled the highways of the Adriatic and Mediterranean adopting more than one name along the way.
Dolmades is the more recognized name. For me growing up they were always called Yaprakia because my grandmother was born in Turkey. We didn’t call her Yia-Yia, we called her NeNe which meant grandmother in the Turkish language. Most Greeks with Turkish influence called them Yaprakia. The word Dolma means stuffed and the word Yaprak means leaf. The recipes vary like in most Greek cooking and variations depend on the island or the village where they were made.
My Mother was born in America with Greek Immigrant parents, she grew up learning, making and eating all the classic Greek delicacies her mother made daily. Her passion for Greek food stayed with her and my childhood was filled with more Greek food than American food.
Of course, when you are a young girl born and raised in America, You just want a Hot Dog, Hamburger or Fried Chicken, darn it! Seriously, my sisters and I would turn our noses up at the weekly meals that included, Moussaka, Pastitsio and Yaprakia, not because we didn’t like these Greek dishes, but as children we did not appreciate how lucky we were and the hours of hard work that went into making these dishes. We just wanted pizza, hot dogs, and cheese steaks, haha!
I can honestly say my mother never made Fried Chicken. Her version was Oregano-Lemon Chicken with Avgolemono soup. I have memories and pictures of her sitting at the table every week rolling Dolmades-Yaprakia. The funniest part is she would put our dog on a chair next to her and the dog would sit there for hours watching her. She thought the dog was a good faithful pet staying by her side, when in fact I believe the dog was just there for the chance of getting a hold of that Greek lamb she was rolling into her grape leaves, hilarious! Of course, our dog loved lamb, she was a Greek dog, we called her Sou-Sou, short for the name of the Greek meatball soutzoukakia!
Since my Mom went to work at 5 am most mornings and didn’t return home until 6 or 7 pm that night. My sister and I prepared dinner and her nightgown was the first thing she reached for as soon as she got home from work. Off went the bra, hose, and heels and on with her nightgown and robe that was labeled by all as her uniform. Of course topped off with her toilet paper, hair clipped wrapped head. For back then women only went once a week to the beauty parlor. They put a whole can of hairspray on their hair and it was supposed to keep the beauty of her hair-dew perfect all week long!
Sorry Mom, you were beautiful but it didn’t work, haha! I just remember dents all over her head from the clips and toilet paper she would wrap around her head that broke apart when she was sleeping, no Charmin back then! Yet she was beautiful and it was hysterical because all of our friends and family became accustomed to seeing her in her uniform!
In her defense, it seemed that wrapping the hair and using orange juice cans with tons of bobby pins was the way to go for that perfect look. My eldest sister used the gigantic orange juice cans and a bucket of clips and bobby pins to keep them in place. It was quite the look, in fact, I remember our next door neighbor asking her if she was trying to reach some radio station with the metal all over her head, lol! Oh the sacrifices we made for the beauty of our hair.
All of these memories just enhance my love of the traditions I grew up with. So, the following recipes are going to not only help you make the best Dolmades-Yaprakia they will show you how easy it is to prepare these amazing little stuffed rolls. These tasty little wonders are not just popular with Mediterranean or Greek people. Ask around, they happen to be in the top ten of the most loved Greek dishes with many other cultures as well.
In fact, they have even been known at parties to be held hostage! Yes, hostage… for most people don’t get Dolmades-Yaprakia very often, even Greeks. And there is one woman who has held the “Crown” as the “Dolmades Queen” to all that know her.
When she brings a big pot of Dolmades to a party they are rationed, just a platter is put out and the rest are hidden. People have been known to fill up baggies of these delicious stuffed grape leaves and sneak them to their cars or hide a plate of them for later. In fact, when people see her at a party the first thing they ask is “did Koumbara Anastasia bring her dolmades?
Well if you live in Baltimore, MD or every travel through Baltimore you are in luck. For her talented Chef grandson, Marc Tsakiris has inherited her secret recipe and they are on the menu in his families Diner. The Boulevard Diner is a family owned business and they are located on Merritt Blvd, in Dundalk MD. These dolmades are so famous that The Food Network sent Guy Fieri to check out the dinner. The dolmades were featured on Diners-Drive-Ins-and-Dives! The Boulevard Diner has the freshest most delicious food and is definitely the best Diner in Baltimore!
With that said, the recipe I use originated with my mother and I have made changes over the years to come up with my recipe. So here we go…
Prep. Time: 1hr
Cook Time: 2hrs
Yield: 15 servings
- 1 jar grape leaves in brine ( rinsed and drained)
- 2 #’s ground beef (90-10 fat content)
- 2 #’s ground lamb
- 1 large vidalia onion chopped fine
- 1 cup olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup fresh dill
- 1 cup fresh mint
- 2 cups Uncle Ben’s Rice
- 4 Eggs(slightly beaten)
- 1 15oz can tomato puree’
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- chicken stock (enough to cover rolled dolmades)
- 1 tbs. Salt
- 2 tsp. pepper
Open the jar of grape-leaves and rinse them in a colander, separate them and cut off the little stem at the bottom of the leaf. Separate any torn leaves from the batch and save.
In a large pan add ¼ cup of olive oil, heat to med. I use the Cuisinart to chop the onion, garlic and dill, but by hand is fine too. Add onions and garlic saute about 5 min, then add the rice, dill, mint, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to med-low and stir all ingredients to coat well with olive oil. Cover and cook for around 5-10 minutes until you can smell all the flavors coming together.
Place the lamb and ground beef in a big bowl, mix well then add the onion-rice mixture and mix with your hands until well incorporated. Add the eggs and mix again. Then add the tomato puree, the feta cheese and ½ cup of the olive oil, Mix well.
Take the torn leaves and line the bottom of a heavy pot to completely cover the bottom. Then take one leaf at a time and at the base add a tablespoon of mixture, this will vary depending on the size of the leaf. Roll like a cigar by folding bottom of leaf over mixture and tuck, then bring up both sides over meat and tightly roll them into cute little logs. Line them as close together as you can around the bottom of pot, make additional layer until all of your mixture or grape leaves are gone.
Pour remaining olive oil, lemon juice and enough chicken stock to just slightly covering grape-leaves. To keep from bursting as the rice cooks, place a heavy plate that fits inside pot on top of grape-leaves. Then you need to place a heavy can on top to keep plate down. My mom always filled the empty grape leaf jar with water and place on top of the plate, place the pot on low and cooked for about 1 hour with lid off pot. Then she removed the jar and covered the pot with the lid and cooked an additional hour.
The Avgolemono name comes from Avgo meaning egg in Greek and Lemono is lemon, so the name simply means Egg Lemon Sauce. A note on why the avgolemono sauce in Greek restaurants sometimes looks really yellow. It’s not because they only use the yolks in the sauce; it is because they put a few drops of yellow food coloring in it to make the yellow vibrant. You will see a range of colors, but in no way will that effect the taste!
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup flour
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 5-6 cups broth from dolmades pot
- salt and pepper to taste
Let them cool, holding the plate pour the broth in a bowl. In another pot cook the butter and flour together making a roux, this will thicken the sauce. Cook this for about 5 minutes stirring often, then whisk in the reserved broth that you poured off the dolmades, bring to a light boil to thicken. Whisk by hand or an immersion blender until smooth. In the broth bowl add 4 eggs and ½ cup lemon juice, whisk until foamy. Slowly add to the thickened broth whisking rapidly so the eggs don’t cook. Bring to a light simmer until thick and creamy.
Taste for salt and fresh ground pepper.
To Serve: Place 4 or 5 dolmades on a plate and spoon a generous stream of the avgolemono sauce on top. Then one bit and you are in heaven, my sons can eat a whole pot at one sitting. So holding a few hostage isn’t such a bad idea after all, lol!
I invite all of my friends from all over the country with all ethnic backgrounds to enjoy this recipe. Weather you start a tradition of your own or you visit the Boulevard Diner in Baltimore, just get your hands on a plate of these wonderful Grecian delights and enjoy!