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I have always loved dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, and my family obviously knew it. My grandmother would make loads of them and would call my mom to tell her, “I made dolmades for Carolina.” Dolmades, just for me! I especially liked the ones with just rice and herbs that we eat cold – you can pop them in your mouth like candy.

Likewise, avgolemono, the smooth yet tart lemon and egg sauce, is another favorite of mine. My grandfather George was an expert on making this. As a child I’d stand next to him while he was whisking quickly but with a masterful technique he had acquired over the years of being married to my grandmother Rena. She would stand next to him, like a general, on the lookout for possible mistakes and giving him directions.

The idea of wrapping food in leaves goes back ages: The ancient Greeks were particularly fond of using fig leaves in their cuisine. Nowadays you can encounter dolmades made of lettuce, cabbage, chard and more. On the island of Symi, they even use cyclamen leaves, stuffing them with Greek fava (yellow split peas) in the spring.

As for grape leaves, those harvested in May are used for dolmades. They are young, tender and delicious, and these are the ones that are preserved at home for future use. The best leaves come from the sultanina grape variety, abundant in Corinth (south of Athens) and Crete. (Grape leaves harvested later in the summer, when the leaves are larger and tougher, are used differently, such as a wrap for fish before grilling – the leaf protects and seals the fish, keeping it nice and juicy plus adding a beautiful aroma to it.)

Here is my recipe for dolmades avgolemono. I’d recommend watching the video as well, especially if you have any questions about the technique. Enjoy!

Dolmades Avgolemono

For the dolmades:

40-50 grape leaves, fresh or in a jar
500 gr (1.1 lbs) minced beef (or half pork, half beef)
80 gr (a heaping 1/3 cup) white medium-grain rice
1 large onion, chopped
1 spring onion (white and green parts), chopped
3 full tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 full tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 full tablespoons chopped fresh dill
160 ml (2/3 cup) olive oil
50 ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice
Salt
Black pepper

For the avgolemono:

2 large eggs (or 3 small eggs), separated and at room temperature
Juice from 1 to 1 1/2 lemon (around 50-90 ml, depending on how sour you like it)
2 tsp corn starch (optional)

For the dolmades:

If you are using fresh grape leaves, wash them and blanch them for 2 minutes (a few at a time) and put them in a bowl with cold water (I use ice). Strain them.

In a bowl add the minced meat, chopped onions and herbs, half the olive oil, salt and black pepper. Knead.

Lay the small or torn leaves on the bottom of a large saucepan with a thick base. One layer is enough.

To start rolling, place a leaf in front of you, veins facing you. Add a teaspoon of the mix in the lower center part of the leaf. Fold the left side of the leaf to the center, on top of the meat filling, then the right side on top and then start rolling from the bottom to the top (slightly similar to a spring roll).

Place them in the saucepan in a spiral shape, seam-side down – you want to prevent them from opening while they cook. Then the next layer is placed on top in a spiral shape too. When all the leaves are filled and in the saucepan, pour in the rest of the olive oil, the lemon juice and take a plate and place it upside down on top of the stuffed grape leaves in the center of the pot. Pour in enough warm water to cover the whole plate. The weight will prevent them from opening, helping to keep their shape. Cover the pan with a lid and place on medium high heat. When they start simmering, bring the heat down to medium and simmer for 20 minutes then lower the heat further and gently simmer for another 20 minutes. (Total cooking time should be about 40-45 minutes).

Remove the lid, and while pushing gently down the plate, carefully pour the liquid from the pan into a pitcher or bowl. Use a spoon to remove the plate. Set aside.

For the avgolemono:

If you plan to reheat it later, then I recommend adding 1 tsp of cornstarch and follow the directions below. If you are planning to eat it immediately, then you can skip the cornstarch, and just add the lemon juice straight to the beaten egg yolks and you won’t need to thicken it up on the stove. Instead, after you fold the egg whites into the lemon juice and egg yolk mixture, and then add the hot liquid, you pour it over the dolmades. Then put the lid back on and shake the pan to distribute the sauce (if you try to stir it in, the dolmades will be ruined).

Separate eggs in two different bowls. Beat the whites until they form soft peaks (a light merengue, not too stiff). In a small bowl mix the lemon juice with the cornstarch. Beat the egg yolks well. Add in the lemon juice mix to the egg yolks and beat some more. Fold in the whites to the yolks and transfer to a small saucepan. Place it on low heat and start adding the warm liquid very slowly while beating constantly. When it feels nice and thick take it off the heat and pour it over the dolmades. Then put the lid back on and shake the pan to distribute the sauce (if you try to stir it in, the dolmades will be ruined). Serve immediately!

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