The cabbage, kale and chard leaves will crack and break if you try to roll them raw. So get ready for the most unexpected trick ever. Stick the whole cabbage in the freezer the night before. Then thaw the cabbage leaves next to something warm (I stuck the whole cabbage in a steamer basket over hot water) and they're perfectly malleable.
As for the kale and chard leaves - you simply trim most of the hard/big part of the stem out of each, and then drop batches of the trimmed leaves into boiling water for fifteen seconds or so. When they're bright green but droopy, pull them out with tongs and and put onto a platter to cool and let the water run off.
You can make meat filling (with any kind of ground meat, rice and spices) or you can make veggie filling with rice and spices. Here's one filling: rice, dill, mint, and salt.
Cool trick with the mint - rub it between your hands to unleash full mojo.
Here's a meat filling.
This one is a mixture of ground beef, rice, and all these spices...
Now we're ready to roll!
Lay the blanched leaves out on the counter. Dot each with a teaspoon of filling. This part is great for kids and parents to do together. Something I've learned about kids and food. Cooking It = Liking It.
You basically make little burrito shapes with the rice filling and leaf wrappers. Here's a step by step from my Iraqi cooking lesson. She's using grape leaves here:
Put generous oil in the bottom of your pot. Then place slices of potatoes or carrot planks on the bottom. You're basically sacrificing these veggies... they're there on the bottom so your dolmas won't stick or burn. If these potatoes or carrots don't burn, they turn out to be a decicious addition to the dolma platter.
If you want a nice colorful centerpiece for your dolma display, stuff a bell pepper with a flat bottom or a tomato and place it in the middle. Then you pack the dolmas in shoulder to shoulder around it so they stay nice and tightly wrapped and don't open up in the boiling cooking liquid. Make the bottom layer one pattern, and then make the next layer an opposite pattern so they interlock and are sturdy. I think it looks nice when you make one layer kale, the next chard, and the next cabbage.
Try to make the top layer even so the plate you put over them is level and the weight you put on top of the plate won't roll off to the side.
I liked her weight - just a jar of water (no lid on the jar or you'll have an explosion!) The goal is to keep the dolmas packed in the cooking liquid without letting them knock around when it boils. Fill the pot with cooking tangy, salty cooking liquid made of water, lemon juice and salt. You do not want bland dolmas, so make sure you put enough salt and lemon in. The little bundles can handle it! Tomato paste mixed in tastes delicious particularly with the meat varieties. Get the liquid simmering, and cook until the rice and meat inside the dolmas is cooked and all but the last bit of water disappears. (If every ounce of water disappears, they'll burn, so don't let the pot go completely dry.)
Then there you have it! A gorgous pot of delicious, healthy finger food! Turn pot over directly onto serving platter or board. They'll tumble out in a loose version of your beautiful pattern, and get gobbled up with glee.
Copyright Lindsay Sterling October 2011.
Photo credits: Margo Roy and Lindsay Sterling