An Iraqi Variation On An Old Theme
The biggest problem with writing about foods from the seven “banned” nations is that they are in the same region and share a culinary history and ingredients. There are similar dishes that are found in each country with varying names and preparations. Regardless, some areas are known for their take on common dishes. We just have to resist discussing the same dishes over and over.
Most of us are familiar with the rice-filled grape leaves found at many Mediterranean restaurants, but Iraqi cuisine is famous for a variety of vegetables filled with rice, lamb and spices.
The techniques used in preparing Iraqi dolmas are different from those typically used in western cuisine, but just take a bit of practice and the right kitchen tools. The most important tools are an apple corer and a small melon baller.
Younger and smaller vegetables work best for dolmas, as older veggies tend to be tougher and have a stronger flavor.
Hollowing out the vegetables requires careful work using an apple corer. Ideally, a cylinder of the vegetable will pull out easily, leaving a thin wall at one end.
Small melon baller;
Low, wide pot with cover or Dutch oven
1 pound ground lamb or beef;
2 cups long-grain rice (Basmati or Jasmine);
10-14 grape leaves, from jar, rinsed;
A mixture of two or three of the following:
4-6 small zucchini,
3-5 small eggplant,
6-10 small, mild peppers,
8-12 Roma tomatoes;
3 cups chicken, beef or lamb stock;
1-2 tablespoon olive oil;
1/4 cup minced red onion;
1 tablespoon minced garlic;
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, plus more for garnish;
2 teaspoons dried thyme;
2 teaspoons ground sumac, plus more for garnish;
Zest and juice of two lemons;
Salt and pepper to taste
To make the filling, hydrate long-grain rice in cold water for at least an hour. Drain the rice, then sauté briefly in olive oil with minced onions and garlic.
Mix with raw ground lamb, beef or a blend. Season well and stuff in the prepared veggies. Small pinches of filling pushed into the veggies worked best for me.
To roll the grape leaves, place a small cylinder (a bit smaller than a wine cork) of the mixture on the leaf near the stem. Fold the sides in, then roll up, much like making a burrito.
Place the dolmas in a wide, low pot or Dutch oven, packing them tight to prevent blowouts as the rice expands. Add the stock to just cover the dolmas and simmer over low heat until the interior of the dolmas reach 165° F.
Garnish with sumac and parsley. Serve with beans or a cooked grain such as bulgur wheat.
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