No Greek meze table is complete without dolmades, the family of stuffed vine or cabbage leaves and vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini. These popular rice-filled grape leaves, known as dolmades, are usually served at room temperature with lemon wedges or yogurt. One 8-ounce jar of grape leaves should provide enough for filling and lining the pan.
1 C. long-grain white rice, preferably basmati rice
1/4 C. currants
1/4 C. pine nuts, optional
3/4 C. olive oil
2 C. finely chopped yellow onions
1 tsp. salt, plus salt to taste
1 C. finely chopped green onions
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 C. peeled, seeded, chopped and drained tomatoes (fresh or canned), optional
1/2 C. chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1/4 C. chopped fresh mint or dill
3/4 C. hot water
Freshly ground pepper
36 grape leaves preserved in brine, plus grape leaves for lining pan, optional
2 C. boiling water
Fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
Place the rice in a bowl, add cold water to cover and let stand for 30 minutes. At the same time, place the currants in a small bowl, add hot water to cover and let stand for 30 minutes until plumped. Drain the rice and currants and set aside. Meanwhile, if using the pine nuts, preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts in a small pan and place in the oven until toasted and fragrant, 6-8 minutes. Set aside.
In a large sautÃ© pan over medium heat, warm 1/2 C. of the olive oil. Add the yellow onion and the 1 tsp. salt and sautÃ© until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the green onions and sautÃ© until softened, about 5 minutes longer. Add the allspice, cinnamon and drained rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is opaque, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes (if using), parsley, mint or dill, currants and hot water and cook, uncovered, until the water is absorbed and the rice is about half cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool. Rinse the grape leaves in cool water and cut off the stems. Working in batches, lay them out on a table, shiny side down. Place a T.ful of the rice filling near the stem end of each leaf, fold the bottom end over the filling, then fold in the sides and roll up. Do not roll too tightly, as the rice will expand during cooking. Set aside, seam side down. When all of the filling has been used, select a baking pan or large, deep frying pan that will hold the stuffed grape leaves in a single layer and line with more grape leaves, if using. Arrange the stuffed grape leaves in the pan, seam sides down. Place a heavy plate on top to keep the leaves from unrolling while cooking, then pour the boiling water and the remaining 1/4 C. olive oil around the leaves. Cover and simmer gently over very low heat until the rice and leaves are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the plate. Sprinkle with a little lemon juice, let cool, then serve with lemon wedges. Or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days; bring to room temperature before serving.