Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades) with a savory beef or lamb filling. Includes directions for using fresh grape leaves.
1poundlean ground lamb or beef
1 ½tablespoonfresh fennel frondsfinely chopped
1tablespoonfresh mint leaveschopped
1cupuncooked long grain rice
¼cupgrated Parmesan cheese
1packet 500 grams grape leavesor approximately 60 fresh leaves prepared
lemon wedges for serving
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, combine the ground meat, onions, salt and pepper and cook until onions are very soft and meat is browned, about 4 minutes.
Add the fennel fronds and mint and cook for 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and 1 cup water and cook until the liquid is mostly evaporated, about 6 minutes. Add an additional cup of water and bring to a boil. Add the rice, return to a boil, cover and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.
Cover and set aside until cool enough to handle cool, approximately 20 minutes. Once the filling has cooled, stir in the Parmesan.
If using fresh leaves, be sure they are pesticide free. They should be at least as big as your hand, with no holes, tears or brown spots. Best time to pick is mid-spring.
Completely remove the stems, wash and put in a saucepan then cover with water. Bring to a boil then turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain.
For pre-packaged grape leaves, soak them in warm water for a few minutes prior to using.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Line the bottom of a 9-inch square, 3-inch deep baking dish with 3 or 4 of the unrolled leaves.
Place a leaf vein side up. Add about 2 teaspoons of filling in a sausage shape along the bottom edge of the leaf.
Fold up the leaf portions sticking out on the bottom.
Fold the outer corners toward the middle.
Roll until it resembles a little cigar.
Place seam side down in the prepared pan. Pack them tightly together in 2 layers. Drizzle olive oil over the rolls. Cover the rolls with hot water. Then cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
Bake for 30 minutes. Add the lemon juice and re-cover with the foil. Bake for 30-60 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed and the grape leaves are tender.
Serve warm or at room temperature with lemon wedges so diners can add extra lemon juice as desired.