Dolmades of the Cape

nasturtium leaf dolmades using a brown and sushi rice mixNasturtium leaf dolmades using a brown and sushi rice mix

'Wild' dolmades, made with wild herbs, nasturtium leaves and home brewed wild berry vinegar

These are wild dolmades using weeds and herbs found at the Cape. It is a highly adaptable recipe. I will describe different ways I have made them.

A while ago I watched a very beautiful film about food culture in Crete. Apparently Cretans eat a very wide range of plants, including many wild plants, which can be bought in their markets. Its hardly surprising, given this diverse diet with a strong reliance on leafy greens that Cretans are know for their longevity. But it is the culture of preparing food together and then feasting together which is so wonderfully good for one's health. This style of social eating and the type of food eaten adds support to my own health food idea, the six pillars of health, which is based on longevity studies of the blue zones.

Cooking together ritualizes food consumption, preparing the digestive organs for the meal ahead, and putting the eaters in a relaxed convivial space that is so healthy for our bodies and our happiness, as we humans have evolved as social creatures. This easy culture of communal cooking is found in many blue zones. In the big city one could always invite someone over to take part in preparation, rather than the guests only coming for the fully prepared meal. It makes dining so much less
of a perfection oriented performance, reducing the stress of everyone concerned, if the time can be found.

Some of the wild greens and garden herbs that went into the stuffing and salad.Some of the wild greens and garden herbs that went into the stuffing and salad.

After watching the film I was determined to prepare some Cretan style dolmades. Then I could not find the movie again. Thus is life. Working from memory I had to get a bit creative and adapt what I remember seeing to my own taste. I had no vine leaves as they are out of season, so I used a combination of other leaves which turned out to be delicious and work very well holding the stuffing firmly. I think the secret, as I've failed before, is in putting uncooked rice in the stuffing and giving it time to steam through. I used sushi rice. I've also used brown rice, and a mix of brown rice and shushi rice. I've used cabbage leaves, chard and nasturtium leaves. I think the nasturtium comes out tops. They are very thin, and when soft really stick together, whereas cabbage is a bit loose.

To save on energy I doubled up the cooking, on the top and bottom of the steamer, and combined steaming and baking for the same reason, to cut down on baking time. In the oven I also doubled up, filling another tray with boiled butternut stuffed with the leftover filling and topped with potato mash, but that is another recipe for another day. The tzatziki style dressing combined with steamed greens and chopped potato worked very well.

My bamboo steamer also made lovely dolmades, without baking.My bamboo steamer also made lovely dolmades, without baking.

I have also made dolmades just by steaming, in a Chinese bamboo basket, it worked very well, with the rice being a little chewy after 45 minutes. I've also tried a microwave, putting them in a partially sealed container with a dish of water. The rice was burned to a crisp, but the two or three in the bottom of the dish which got 'boiled' were fine. If cooking in a microwave its probably best to do them in water.

Ingredients for the Cape dolmades

The dolmades' wrapping leaves

The leaves need to be the size of an outstretched hand, and quite thin once steamed. You need two per dolmade
or roll, if they are small on one side and large on the other or with the vein cut out, as for cabbage. I used one Chinese cabbage and one yellow leaf for each. The crinckley leaves had been lightly steamed to soften them first to make them more easy to roll. If you have large nasturtium leaves, just one will do well. I used them as is, without steaming first, they are very thin and sticky when steamed. Just soak them in lightly salted water to remove insects.

steamed and baked cabbagesteamed and baked cabbage
nasturtium leafnasturtium leaf dolmades

The dressing

olive oil
a lemon

The stuffing for the dolmades

A cup of short grain rice (sticky or sushi rice), or a mix of brown and sushi rice (all uncooked)
half a cup of vinegar (I use my home brewed vinegar)
half of a large onion, grated
half a cup of herbs (I used savory, rosemary, parsley, soup celery and some nettles, or whatever is available, like a little wild sage (bruinsalie) or wild rosemary. I use Cape herbs sparingly as they have not been bred to be innocuous like the European herbs. Sweet European herbs like wild fennel can be used in larger quantities.
half a teaspoon salt (I cook without salt and add freshly ground at the end, so its up to you)
a table spoon of olive oil

A salad for accompanying the dolmades

3 cups of any greens of your preference, like baby spinach, and your local wild herbs. I used a few nettles
and some dune spinach or Tetragonia decumbens, a native food, and sour sorrel, Oxalis pes caprae, also
native. I sear or steam the wild leaves to reduce oxalic acid which is a poison.
Two potatoes

Salad dressing

Half a cup of herbs of your choice. I used some savory and wild fennel and a tiny bit of little Herb Robert which has a musky aroma.
A cup of Kefir, or yoghurt
Half an onion, grated
Half a teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
The juice of a lemon

Equipment for making dolmades

teaspoon measure
tablespoon measure
cup measure
stirring and lifting spoon
sharp knife
double boiler, steamer or kettle
chopping board
oven, and hotplate or gas
flat oven pan

served with baked butternut and salad.Cape dolmades served with baked butternut and salad.

Method for making dolmades, salad and vegetables

1. Mix all the ingredients for the stuffing and leave to stand for 20 minutes

2. Put the potatoes on to boil in the bottom half of the double boiler, with just a little water, about half the
height of the potatoes.

3. For thick leaves like chard and cabbage: cut the stalk and the lower thick part of the central leaf vein out of your leaves and set the stalks aside.
Steam the leaves lightly on top of the double boiler, or pour boiling water over them.
Drain the wrapping leaves

4. For thin pliable leaves like nasturtium: just snip off the stalk and soak the leaves in slightly salty water for twenty minutes.

5. For thick stemmed leaves, make the rolls by placing one leaf flat on a board and placing the second one upside down on the first, so that the large V where you cut out the stem is covered by the tip of the other leaf, to make a nice rollling edge on both sides.

6. For thin leaves like nasturtium just place a single fresh leaf on the board. If it has holes, you can use a second leaf to keep the rice in.

7. Lift a large pinch (about a tablespoon full) of wet uncooked rice out of the bowl of stuffing. Place it one third of the way up the leaves lying on the board. The pile of stuffing must be small, and a bit loose, so that the rolls have lots of leaf to stick together, and the rice does not expand and explode the rolls. Don't worry about extra liquid, the rolls shouldn't be dry.

8. Turn the bottom third over the rice and tuck it in a little over the pile of stuffing.

9. Flap the sides of the leaves over the rice to hold in the stuffing from the side, and make a neat tongue of
green with approximately straight sides extending away from you to roll over.

10. Roll the lump of stuffing in its green cover, over and over gently till the tongue of green is wrapped all
around the roll.

11. Lift the roll gently with your fingers making sure it doesn't come apart, and place in the steamer.

12. Once the steamer is full prepare your other wild leaves for the salad and lay them on top with the stems of the wrapping leaves you set aside.

13. Put the dolmades and leaves on the double boiler to steam. When the leaves have softened, but are not too squishy, (After 5-8 minutes) remove them from the double boiler, and set them to cool, leaving the dolmades. When the potato is done remove it and leave it to cool a bit.

14. Chop the potato with its skin and make sure the leaves and stems of the salad greens are the size you like. When luke warm, add the leaves, stems and potato to the salad dressing, and leave to steep.

15. After the dolmades have been steaming for half an hour, heat up the oven to full, top heat. You can also use steam alone. About 45 minutes is usually just right.

16. If baking remove the rolls from the steamer after 30 minutes and gently place them in a baking tray.

17. Pour about a cup of vegetable juice from the bottom of the double boiler into the baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over the rolls, and squeeze the lemon over the rolls.

18. Bake for about twenty minutes, or until the rolls dry a little and lighten or change colour on the top, and
the juice in the pan has largely dried up.

19. Make some toast and leave it in the toaster till its really dry, to imitate Cretan rusk-bread. Then drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, or cooked tomatoes if you wish.

Serve the dolmades with salad or other baked vegetables and very crispy dry toast.



nasturtium-lentil dolmades with rolling instructions

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