Dolmades With a Nasturtium Surprise

18 Sep

Last night, darkness came noticeably early and the temperature dropped into the 30s.   My cats , calling a temporary truce, curled up on the couch under a purple blanket in a warm and peaceful kitten pile.  Deciding they had the only sensible approach to this less-than-ideal situation, I nudged them over and took my place under the purple blanket, book and glass of wine in hand.

I began reading Donia Bijan’s Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen.  It had been recommended to me by Aglaia Kremezi, journalist, cookbook author and owner of Kea Artisanal, a cooking school on the Aegean island of Kea, an hour’s ferry boat ride from Athens. We were standing in her outdoor kitchen and she had just sent my students off into her garden, baskets dangling from their arms,  to gather grape leaves in preparation for the upcoming “How to Make Dolmas” demonstration.  As the last of the students was disappearing around the bend, Aglaia shouted, “And bring back some nasturtium leaves, too!”

Gathering grape and nasturtium leaves in Aglaia and Costas’ garden

Aglaia had just finished Maman’s Homesick Pie and was intrigued by the author’s description of her mother returning from long walks carrying stacks of nasturtium leaves which, being tender and peppery, made a “fine alternative to the more tangy grape leaves” she usually used when making her Dolmas. And, being of a generation where you don’t let anything go to waste, she would use the pretty nasturtium petals for garnish.


Aglaia was so charmed by this description that she wanted to give it a try. When the students returned, their baskets brimming, she set them to rolling dozens of stuffed grape leaves and a few stuffed nasturtium as well.  They were tender and peppery and, as Donia promised, a pretty and tasty alternative.

Here is Aglaia’s recipe for Dolmas, which you can make using grape or nasturtium leaves.  You can find more of Aglaia’s recipes in her books Foods of the Greek Islands, Foods of Greece, and Mediterranean Hot & Spicy.

Dolmades Nistisimi, Lenten Grape Leaves Stuffed With Rice (8 to 10 servings)

  • One 8-ounce jar brine-paced grape leaves, drained
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 5 scallions (white and most of the green parts) finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 cup medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • 1 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Freshy ground black pepper
  • About 1 cup water
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly squezzed lemon juice
  • 2 lemons, cut into wednges
  • Thick sheep’s milk yogurt or yogurt that has been drained using a cheesecloth

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Carefully separate the grape leaves and blanch them, in batches, for about 1 minute, in the boiling water.  Rinse with cold water and drain.

In a large bowl, combine the onions, fennel, scallions and salt and work the mixture between your hands to wilt the vegetables. Stir in the rice, dill, mint, 1/2 cup of olive oil and plenty of pepper.

Line the bottom of a large pot with the smaller and/or torn grape leaves.  Place a large leaf, vein side up, on a work surface, and the stem toward you.  Cut off the stem with scissors.  Place about a tablespoon of the filling near the stem.

Nasturtium leaves with filling

Fold the two sides of the leaf over the filling.  Fold over the bottom and roll up the leaf tightly like a cigar.  Place seam side down in the pot.  Continue with the remaining leaves, placing the dolmades tightly next to each other.  When the bottom of the pot is filled, make a second layer.

Pour the water, the remaining 1/2 cup oil and the lemon juice over the dolmades.  The liquid should almost cover them; if it does not, add a little more water.  Place an inverted heatproof plate over the dolmades to keep them from unrolling as they cook.

Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked.  Remove from the heat. Cool completely.  Refrigerate overnight.  To serve the dolmades, bring to room temperature. Arrange on a plate and serve, accompanied by lemon wedges or thick yogurt.

We spent two wonderful days with Aglaia and her husband Costas at their home and cooking school on Kea.  Kea is not a well known tourist destination, which has helped it maintain its charm.

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One Response to “Dolmades With a Nasturtium Surprise”

  1. maddalena cantoni September 19, 2012 at 5:45 am #

    thank you for this intriguing recipe and the nice surprise of foinding again Aglaia I follow on her site and apreciate since I met her looking for phillo pastry on the web.

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