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Lahanodolmades is a Greek dish of stuffed cabbage leaves filled with meat and rice and served with an avgolemono sauce.   The meat and rice stuffing is flavoured with oregano and mint.  The avgolemono sauce adds a lemony kick and takes away any thought that cabbage is a fundamental part of this recipe.

This may not be the most attractive dish but what it lacks in appearance it makes up in flavour and has to be the ultimate in comfort food.  My mother only made this for my brothers and me, never for anyone else.  I don’t think she ever thought it was showy enough.  Perhaps that is why she always accompanied it with chips!  I have eaten it many times when I have cooked it myself without the chips but for me the chips are the icing on the cake.  My ritual is to eat the Lahanodolmades and then use the chips to mop up the avgolemono sauce.  Heaven. Well, for me that is.

Many Greek recipes call for Arborio rice, in this recipe it has been replaced by long grain as per my mother’s recipe.  No doubt she used this when she moved to England because she would have found it difficult if not impossible to find Arborio and like a lot of her Greek recipes she had to improvise.  Even though as the years passed and Arborio has become available my mother stuck with her long grain improvisation.

It took me a long time to make Lahanodolmades for myself, I just didn’t have a need.  When I was at home I would watch my mother on numerous occasions make this whilst sat on the kitchen chair chatting about nothing,  never thinking to note anything down.   When I left home I was busy trying all the things I didn’t get to eat at home to worry about any recipes.  It wasn’t until quite a few years later that I began to hanker after my childhood food.  I think my mother knew that she had a slight power over us.  If we visited her she would make our favourite foods.  It was a way of luring us in.

When we did visit it turned into a game, what dish my mother served up indicated who was the favourite.  If we planned a visit to my mother’s she would always ask what we would like her to cook for us.  My reply was either Lahanodolmades or Paella.  When I sat down to eat it usually wasn’t either.  There would always be a long list of rotating excuses why not, usually because they were a lot of work.  This all stopped when I realised what went on when my elder brother visited, he too requested my mother’s Lahanodolmades and that’s exactly what he got.  I can remember turning up unexpectedly one evening to find him happily eating a huge plate of them with the accompanying chips.  When I exclaimed my outrage my brother sat and laughed and said in a very smug way that if I wanted to eat them in future I should check when he was visiting!

This recipe sounds complicated but it isn’t and neither does it have a long list of ingredients.  The ratio of rice to mince is up to you. As with a lot of recipes the meat can be padded out with more rice.   I use oregano and mint but these can be replaced with parsley and dill, it’s just a matter of what you have in the cupboard or garden at the time.  Another joy of this recipe is that it can be made the day before and reheated gently so as not to break the Lahanodolmades.  The avgolemono sauce does though need to be made fresh just before serving and cannot be reheated.

Lahanodolmades

Ingredients

1  whole white cabbage

1 lb/500g lamb mince  (beef, pork, veal or a combination is fine)

1 small onion grated

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small egg lightly beaten

2 oz/60g long gain rice (washed)

2 tbs oregano dried

1 tbs mint dried

Salt and pepper

Vegetable stock

Avgolemono sauce

3 egg yolks

Juice of 2 lemons

2 tbs cornflour

Stock from the cooked Lahanodolmades

Method

1

Take the whole white cabbage turn it over and cut out the heart.

Place a large fork or as you can see I have used a serving fork into the middle of the cabbage.

Put a large pan of salted water onto boil.  The pan needs to be big enough to incorporate the whole cabbage.

Place the cabbage into the water when boiling and leave it in for a few minutes.  Remove.  Gently pull away the outer leaves as they loosen.  Place the whole cabbage back into the pan and repeat until all the leaves are removed.

Set aside the leaves until they are cool enough to handle.

2

Any of the small leaves or pieces of cabbage not used can be placed in the bottom of the pan.  This will act as a vegetable trivet and will stop the Lahanodolmades from burning or catching whilst cooking.

In a pan put the tablespoon of oil and heat gently.  Add the onions and cook until transparent.  Remove and cool.

Put into a bowl the mince, washed rice, onion, herbs, egg, salt and pepper.  Mix well with your hands.

Take one cabbage leaf and with a sharp knife cut any large tough veins out.  Place a walnut sized piece of mince and rice mixture into the middle.  Bring up the sides and roll.

Place the rolled cabbage parcel on top of the cabbage lined pan and start to fill the pan up creating layers of parcels. The aim is to pack them in tightly.

6

When all the leaves have been wrapped and packed into the pan place an upturned saucer on top to anchor them down.

7

Dissolve a stock cube in some boiling water in a jug and gently pour this into the pan until it just covers the Lahanodolmades.  Put a lid on the pan and gently bring to the boil after which turn down to a slow simmer.  Leave them to simmer for about 60 to 80 minutes.

To make the Avgolemono sauce

Beat the egg yolks to a creamy constituency in a pan.

Add the lemon juice slowly whilst continuing to beat

Add the cornflour and stir well until smooth

Now gently add a cup of stock from the pan of cooked Lahanodolmades which has been allowed to cool until tepid and stir well.

If you add the stock too hot it will curdle the eggs.

Place the pan on a low heat and stir until the sauce thickens.  Do not over cook.  Depending on how thick you like your sauce you can either add more or less stock.

As I usually make enough for two meals I do not add the sauce to the pan of Lahanodolmades.  I serve them onto a plate and pour the Avgolomeno sauce over them.

Serve as they are with the sauce and if you wish a large helping of chips!

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