I can credit Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine for starting me on my foodie path and broadening my culinary horizons. It was one of my mom’s favorite types of food…and we made the trek to local Greek joints as often as we could. Her favorite dish, which as a child I watched her eat in absolute terror, were dolmades. Also sometimes called dolmas, they’re grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs. In my earlier days, I didn’t get their appeal – a wet grape leaf with squishy rice inside!? No thanks. Nowadays, however, I crave the cabbage-like grape leaf and the acidic, herbaceous juice they marinate in. As a fan of a particular dish, you’re likely to try it wherever you go…and I’ve been victim to many overcooked, soggy dolmas that are laden with so much dill, it’s like eating a pickle. Heck, I’ve even tried dolmades on a grocery deli salad bar – you’d think I’d know better.
In my quest to find swoon-worthy dolmades, several people pointed me in the direction of Grecian Gyro, a Greek cuisine institution whose first location opened in Hapeville in 1982. Grecian Gyro now has three locations spread out around the city so folks in every area can get their fix. Trust me, you’ll want to. Their hummus has great consistency and taste, the wraps are delicious (they’ve recently added a veggie wrap for the non-meat eaters) and the potatoes with their trademark sauce are out of this world. I went there for the dolmades…and I was not disappointed. The grape leaves were tender but still had some snap, the fresh dill didn’t overpower the other flavors, and the filling was properly cooked and not mushy. The texture and tartness I’d been looking for had been found. The dolmades can be ordered as a platter or as a side dish, so you have no excuse not to try them. If you’re not here in Atlanta, don’t worry: George (the founder’s son) has shared their recipe for this classic dish, which you can find below. To get more information on Grecian Gyro, such as locations & menus, go to www. greciangyro.com.
Dolmades – recipe provided courtesy of Grecian Gyro
– Remove the leaves from the jar and carefully rinse under cold water. Cut off any stems, if necessary. Allow them to drain on paper towels.
– For the filling:
In a large skillet over medium, heat 1 cup of the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent (about 6 minutes). Add the garlic and rice and sauté for another 1 minute, making sure the rice is well coated in the oil. Add about 1½ cups water, the parsley, dill, mint, salt and pepper. Cover and let it simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is about half cooked. Remove from heat and transfer the mixture into a large bowl and allow it to cool slightly.
– To assemble: Carefully place the grape leaf on a cutting board dull side up (glossy side down). Place 1-2 teaspoons of the stuffing along the wide end of the leaf, leaving some leaf free at each end. Fold the bottom end (stem) up over the filling and then fold the sides towards the filling in the center. Then firmly roll the leaf into a small cylindrical package (like a small cigar). Be careful not to fold too tightly, the rice will expand during cooking.
Place the dolmades into a Dutch oven or large heavy skillet in a single layer, with the folded section underneath. Repeat until all rolls are done.
– Add the rest of the olive oil and the juice of 1 lemon to the pan. Cover the dolmades with a plate to hold them in place while cooking and add enough water to cover the plate. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat and allow to simmer for about 1 hour, until the rice is tender.
Serve warm or cold. Add more lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.