STUFFED SWISS CHARD LEAVES
Dolma is a Middle Eastern triumph, where leaves and vegetables are filled with a rice mixture that’s packed with herbs and flavour, and after eating it you are left feeling content, warm and loved. Dolma is what my Mother refers to as a ‘celebration of the season’ as it showcases whatever vegetables you can get your hands on at that moment. Visually it’s an explosion of colours and is a real treat for your eyes as well as for your taste buds. Whenever I want to impress at a dinner party, this is my go-to dish. Yes, it requires patience to make, but it is so worth it. Oh, and its vegan!
I’ll demonstrate this recipe in its purest form today, with stuffed leaves only. Traditionally the leaves we use are vine leaves or large spinach leaves. Mum would always yelp with joy whenever she’d spot vine leaves growing anywhere (usually in strangers gardens), or whenever she’d find bunches of spinach leaves worthy of being stuffed. It was at these opportunistic moments that she would decide to make dolma – when she would see the best ingredients that would do it justice. This time I couldn’t find either spinach or vine leaves, but I did source some beautiful Swiss chard that will taste just as good, if not better. Cabbage also works well when you’re making this in the winter months.
Dolma can be served as a dish on its own, but I like to serve it with a roast chicken, good bread and mint, yogurt and cucumber dip.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Serves: 4 people
Make ahead: Make up to the end of step 5 and store in the fridge for up to 2 days
1. Soak the pudding rice in water for at least 30 minutes.
2. While the rice is soaking, wash and finely chop the spring onions, parsley and dill and place together in a large bowl. Crush 3 cloves of garlic and add to the bowl, along with the tomato purée, cumin, salt and black pepper. Add olive oil and the drained pudding rice and mix everything together so it is evenly distributed. Set filling aside.
3. Wash the Swiss chard, then cut off the stalks and put them to one side. Leaves need to be a good size for wrapping the rice filling - I went for around 15cm by 15cm.
4. Start assembling the dish in a large pot (I used a 5.5 litre stock pot). Add 3 tbsp olive oil, sliced new potatoes, broad beans, Swiss chard stems and the halved garlic cloves. Season with 1 tsp salt and mix so the salt and oil are evenly covering everything in the pot.
5. Start rolling your dolma - take one of your leaves and place around 1 tsp of rice filling onto one edge (see photo above). We don’t want too much filling as the rice will expand with cooking. Spread this evenly from one side of the leaf to the other and roll leaf around the rice mixture as tightly as you can. Place in the pot and repeat this process until you have used all your leaves, packing them as tightly as you can. Place a small (heat proof) plate on top of the dolma, and push down gently (see above). The weight of the plate keeps the dolma tightly packed as it cooks.
Once all dolma is wrapped you may have some rice filling left over – this can be scattered onto the top of your dolma pot, or it can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days and used in another dinner. For example, it can be boiled in a cup or so of water and cooked for around 15 minutes, and served with salad, chicken or fish.
6. Boil the kettle. Add 100g tomato purée to a large bowl, together with 1 tsp salt and the juice of 1 to 3 lemons depending on how lemony you like it (I used 3). Add 1 litre of boiled water and mix thoroughly.
7. Add hot mixture to your pot and bring to the boil. Once boiled, lower the temperature of the hob down to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and leave for around 1 hour and 20 minutes, keeping an eye on it and checking towards the end if the rice is cooked.
8. Turn out onto a tray. This part of the cooking process is my favourite, and I often do it in front of everyone to really showcase the splendour of the dish (this also makes it quite entertaining if you are a bit messy with it). If there is quite a lot of sauce in your pot, remove some of this into a fresh bowl before turning out so that you minimise mess, as you can always pour this back onto the dish after.
9. Enjoy! I put the whole tray in the middle of the table and everyone picks their favourite bits for themselves. You won’t be disappointed.