Homemade dolmas and a chilli cauli side dish

Have you ever tried dolmas (dolmades) before? They’re the stuffed grape vine leaves that you normally get in a tin, and they originate from the large area in the Middle East that borders the Mediterranean sea. Anyway… they’re pretty damn delicious (if not a little greasy), or at least that’s what I thought before I tried making them myself.
Let me just start by saying that as much as I love to try and make things myself where possible, I am fully aware that some things are just better when they are prepared commercially (puff pastry comes to mind), while some fiddly, time-consuming things just aren’t worth the hassle of making yourself (stuffed pasta is almost there… but not quite – depending on the filling). Dolmas DO NOT fall into either of these categories!! Homemade dolma are a revelation: the taste, texture and overall amazingness of them has no comparison.
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I used this recipe from the Kitchn website as a guide, and substituted or omitted depending on what I had in the cupboard. Thankfully I was able to hunt down some lovely fresh vine leaves (the owners of the grape vine will never miss a few leaves, right?!)… And I think these were a major factor in the difference in flavour and texture. I also referred to my favourite Greek cookbook for the cooking method. The wonderful Maria Benardis recommends steaming the dolma on a layer of finely cut potato to stop the leaves from sticking to the base of the pot if the cooking water runs out – this is pure genius!! Don’t you just love handy, sensible little tips like that? Not to mention, the potato was perfectly steamed and flavored by the end of the cooking process – just perfect for snacking on while waiting for the dolma to cool.
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I served my dolma with a very tasty and easy cauliflower recipe from Alice Hart’s Vegetarian book. Not because I particularly like cauliflower with dolma, nor is it a traditional pairing (as far as I know), but I just happened to have one in the fridge.

Charred cauliflower with almonds and chilli

1 cauliflower (cut into smallish florets)
1 red chilli (depending on how much you like hot food you might like to remove the seeds)
100gm almonds (chopped)
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic (sliced thinly)
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a fry pan and fry the cauliflower for 5 minutes or so until you get some nicely charred edges. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pan, and cook for two minutes. Now add the chilli, almonds, cumin seeds and garlic and turn the heat up to medium. Cook for another 5 minutes stirring every now and then. Take off the heat and season with salt and pepper, and garnish with chopped parsley.
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Last night we traveled to Greece for dinner

My children have a fascination for eating food from other countries.

I have a great big stack of cookbooks that don’t get nearly as much love (read: use) as they should.

I wish I had the time and money to travel more – exotic and faraway places intrigue me. (Not to mention the shopping…!)

So… once a week on a Sunday afternoon (after much heated mid-week debate) I take out one of my precious cookbooks from the shelf in the kitchen and start feverishly whipping up a feast – one from another country.

Much mess ensues, all pots and pans are used, food spreads across the kitchen bench and other nearby surfaces, the dishwasher whirs, the fridge is emptied of ingredients.

And our kitchen transforms into the country chosen for the week… this week, Greece. Opa!!

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Our feast this week consisted of:

Tiganites ntomates (fried crumbed tomatoes)
Tiropsomo with Feta, Kasseri and Thyme (Greek bread)
Asparagus with Eggs, Ladolemono and shaved Kefalograviera Cheese
Butter bean dip
Chargrilled haloumi in vine leaves (from our garden!)

All the recipes I used are from the wonderful Maria Benardis’ Greekalicious website or from her book “My Greek Family Table” (if you don’t have this book and love Greek food – hunt it down… not only are the recipes fantastic, but the book is a work of art, and the family stories are delightful! I highly recommend it).

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And dessert… (the most important meal of the day)

The dessert was my own creation – strawberries with rosewater, fresh walnuts (serendipitously picked up from market that day), strained yoghurt, and honey. Not sure how Greek that is… but it was the perfect end to our meal.

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