Dining on Dolmathes

By Maria Price

The Mediterranean diet is one of the best in the world for health benefits. One of my favorite dishes from that region is dolmathes or stuffed grape leaves. Dolmathes are on many restaurant menus, but if you have some free time, homemade dolmathes are far superior, as many offerings in restaurants come from a can.

Grape leaves are an excellent source of beta-carotene and niacin. They also contain resveratrol, which helps prevent cardiovascular diseases. It reduces blood platelets’ tendency to stick together and clot. It also increases HDL cholesterol.

Collect grape leaves from any grapevines you have in your garden. And if you grow a variety of herbs you can make this dish completely from scratch.

If you don’t have grapes growing in your garden, you can forage for them in wooded areas. Wild grapes grow in our woods. It’s best to pick the grape leaves earlier in the year when they are more tender, but the herbs in my garden are more abundant now. If you have to forage for wild grapevine leaves, a short walk through the woods or wild areas should yield some grape vines in trees. The leaves can be anywhere from 2 to 8 inches wide and maple-like with three lobes with whitish reddish felt underneath.

Make sure their tendrils are forked at the end, as there are poisonous lookalikes. Canada moonseed has a single flat crescent-shaped seed and the leaf attaches beyond the leaf base; porcelain berry has small blue, purple and turquoise berries. It never has a brown, woody vine and it has single tendrils that are not forked at the end.

For the recipe, collect about 50 leaves. Snip the grape leaves leaving a ½-inch stem, put them in a pot with 2 inches of water and boil for about 10 minutes.

I picked a salad bowl full of herbs: large handfuls of lemon balm, sweet basil, parsley, fennel leaves, oregano, rosemary and spearmint. Strip all the leaves from their stems and chop in a food processor. Saute one cup of rice in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until lightly brown. Add a chopped clove of garlic, two finely chopped onions, and one pound of ground meat. Add two cups of water and stir until absorbed. Add your chopped herbs, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 cup currants and 1/4 cup pine nuts. Mix well. Fill your grape leaves with one tablespoon of filling along the bottom of the leaf. Roll the stem end up and fold the two sides over and finish rolling the leaf.

Place the end of the roll down and stack tightly in a pot. Add two cups of water and the juice of a lemon. Place a plate on top to cover the pot. Simmer 45 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice on top and enjoy.