After reading any number of recipes for stuffed grape leaves, variously known as dolmas or dolmades depending on which side of the Aegean you live on, I came to the conclusion that really anything goes when it comes to fillings.
Having picked a bunch of mallow leaves, I blanched them and soaked them in a lemony brine, and then I decided to make some dolmas with them. I mixed onion, some mushrooms, and a batch of arugula pesto I'd made a few days before with with half-cooked short-grain rice and went to town.
The use of short- or medium-grain rice is vital—if you are using rice. Long-grain rice tastes terrible cold. As for the arugula pesto and hedgehog mushrooms, I know they are pretty esoteric, but this recipe would be just fine with regular pesto and any nice mushroom, chopped fine. Go for wild ones if you can get them, but even the little brown cremini mushrooms would be good. And you can buy hedgehogs and other wild mushrooms online through Earthy Delights.
To fold the dolmas, you lay the leaf smooth side down, bottom facing you. Put about a tablespoon of filling in a little log alongside the bottom, stretching from side to side toward the leaf edges. Leave at least a half-inch of space on either edge. Fold up from the bottom once, then fold over the sides and roll up. It takes some practice, as you will learn how much tension you can put on the dolma before the leaf rips.
Mallow leaves are way more delicate than grape leaves, and should you ever use fig leaves, they are rougher still.
Makes about 20 dolmas
• 1 cup short-grained rice
• ½ onion, finely chopped
• ½ pound hedgehog or other mushrooms, finely chopped
• 1⁄3 cup pesto
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• grape or mallow leaves
Get a large frying pan hot over high heat. Add the mushrooms and shake the pan often until they release their water. When most of the water is gone, add the onion and the olive oil and a little salt. Toss to combine.
Saute this over high heat until the onion begins to color, then add the rice. Toss to combine.
Toast for a minute, then add one cup of water and a little salt. Turn the heat to medium and let the water cook away.
When it is absorbed, turn off the heat and let the rice cool.
Add the pesto and toss to combine. You can add a little olive oil if you have a dryish pesto.
Grape and mallow leaves come in different sizes, so adjust the amount of filling as needed when you fill them. It should always be about a tablespoon, though.
Line up your dolmas seam side down on a perforated vegetable steam insert, Chinese steamer, or even on the bottom of a pan. Nestle them in snug against each other, and it is to stack them up to three levels high.
Mallow leaves don't need to be weighed down, but grape leaves benefit from it. Lay a plate over the dolmas when you put them in to the pot you are about to steam them in. I use a large stockpot.
Put in enough water to come up just under the level of the dolmas, cover and bring to a boil. Steam gently for 40 minutes to an hour—why the difference? Depends on how fresh your rice is, and how much water it soaked up initially. Better to err on the long side than the short, as no one likes crunchy rice ...
Serve warm or at room temperature. Dolmas will keep for a week in the fridge.
To read about the search for mallow leaves that led Hank to devise this recipe, click here.