So, I went to the second evening of my class on hors doeuvres at the NYWCC (New York Wine and Culinary Center for those not in the know) -- and I made dolmades. The class was a little short on people, so I did one recipe more or less on my own (with a little bit of rolling done by others). I was speedy and efficient and it still took me the entire 2 hours. I asked for help from the chef, who gave me a rolling lesson (oh so brief) but mainly, it was me, all me. And they turned out beautiful, but not quite perfect. Next time?
That voice of confidence is just what I needed to reclaim -- and came from the gift of these classes and these dolmades. I recommend cooking classes for all and sundry whose work does nto have immediate and obvious products -- and whose work cannot be easily and immediately "assessed" for its failure or success.
What are dolmades? They are grape leaves wrapped around various fillings. You can find pre-made dolmades at the olive bar in Wegmans on occasion. And you can find them in various restaurants -- greek and other mediterranean types. Sometimes vegetarian and sometimes not. Often lemon-y. And always little stuffed bits -- the word, in fact, seems to come from Arabic or Turkish or. . . for "to be stuffed." For loads of details, try clicking here or even here where you can find step by step instructions for making them, even including rolling them -- which could mean skipping what I say below, but why do that when. . . .
How do you make dolmades? No, I did not go out to wineries in the area and pick leaves (nor did anyone at the NYWCC though there was some implication that it was possible). Rather, these were made from those bottles of grape leaves you see here and there and wonder what people do with them. The recipe I had called for blanching and then shocking them; 1 minute in boiling water for the first and then very briefly dropping them into ice water for the second. On the advice of the chef, I ignored that step. What was inside? White rice, toasted pine nuts, currants, lemon juice with salt dissolved in it, rosemary, a bit of olive oil. Mix it. Let it sit. Put a table spoon or so into big leaves; less in smaller ones. And, roll them up. Now, there's the difficulty -- either a) go to the site noted above and check out the pictures; b) go for trial or error; c) wrap from the end which would have attached to the vine and tuck the edges in as you go along.
The chef suggested thinking about other things to include -- cranberries at the holidays (whcih soudns odd to me), alternative spices or herbs beyond rosemary (dill, for example), and meats. Yep, dolmades are flexible and dandy.
A comment on plating and other miscellany? Our chef loved plating -- and apparently teaches a class on plating at the NYWCC. He told us a bit about making infused oils (toast some paprika; add canola oil; let it cool and sit for a bit; drain through a coffee filter; and similarly for basil and other oils) and lardons. (Ok, lardons is high falutin' for bacon.) And, he claimed to be the person who knows how to cook mushrooms -- heat the saute pan first to a very high temperature, then add mushrooms. Most crucially, he said: home cooks are missing patience. And so, I plated carefully -- using parsley for a green border and some red pepper skin to make a sort of twirly confetti in one corner. Happy Holidays.
What else was made that night? Tortellini toothpicks turned out to be wonderful but simple; tortellini, sun dried tomatoes, basil leaves, and toothpicks rendered beautiful. Blini with sour cream and chives. Not so easy it turns out to get those tiny pancakes right. (Yes, you can still buy them in little bags at Wegmans if you are having a caviar evening.) Corn cakes with mango salsa. (Rumor has it the team that made these added honey). Empanadas which turned out to be beautiful little half moons of dough and meat. I look forward to making them all. I certainly tried them all that night that I Made Dolmades!