Just a couple of days into my trip to Greece and I began in earnest to meet the first round of folks who are passionate about Greek cuisine and take pride in the products they produce. Technology has it’s good and bad points but when it comes to connecting with new friends, acquaintances and the exchange of info, the internet has done wonders.
This past summer I had connected with Diane Kochilas (Greek Food Guru) on Facebook and in our exchange we concluded that one day we’ll meet up – be in Greece or here in North America. Diane also proffered that I visit Marianna Kazaki in Halkidiki, famous for her “ampelofylla” (grape vine leaves). Marianna (I was told) was based in the village of Nea Gonia, which is merely 6 km. away from our family summer home in Nea Kallikratia.
I found the website for “Marianna”, shot-off an email and within a day I was exchanging pleasantries with Marianna’s son, Saki. The plan was to visit the operations of “Ta Ampelofylla tis Marianna’s”, sample the products, take some photos and get to know the family. Saki picked me up from my home and we approached the family’s home and main place of business just outside of Nea Gonia. The national highway just behind the building and the Thermaic Gulf and Mount Olympus just beyond is mere kilometres away. On the other side of the road was the family’s vineyards where the hand-picked grape vine leaves are carefully selected and jarred for consumer use.
The Kazakis family began picking and jarring grape vine leaves (ampelofylla) 15 years ago out of a need for a better grape leaf and due to their passion for pure and traditional goods. What started out as a production that simply met the needs of family, had grown to meet the demands of friends and acquaintances who heard about the the Kazakis family’s tender grape vine leaves, jarred in a brine solution. The most common use for grape vine leaves is for the rolling of Dolmades.
When I entered the ground level store front, display area and lounge of the family business, I was greeted by grandmother and, Kiria (Mrs.) Marianna. I was given an afternoon “Elliniko” (Greek coffee) and was told that I would be brought some of their products to sample and opine on. As an extension of the family’s jarred grape vine leaves, the Kazakis family also offer a frozen Dolmades Gialantzi product. Dolmades Gialantzi are grape wine leaves wrapped around a rice mixture. Herbs are abundant and currants, raisin or pine nuts (or all three) may be found in some recipes. Another fave of mine is Dolmadakia with ground meat and Avgolemono Sauce.
All the products on market by “Ampellofylla tis Marianna’s” are made by hand, only machinery is used for automated packaging. The premise of the frozen Dolmades Gialantzi are simple: prepare the rice and herb filling, roll with the tender and falvourful grape wine leaves from the family’s own vineyards and package them in a plastic, round container. They are flash-frozen, packaged and ready for consumption. One need only dip the container into some warm water to loosen the Dolmades and then simply (carefully) invert and place in a pot. Cover the Dolmades with hot water, add Greek extra-virgin olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon juice and simmer as per the package instructions.
Serve these as part of a meze offering on their own or with a size of Tzatziki and enjoy warm or at room temperature. The Kazakis family have a delicious hit here! This product is a response to a need in the marketplace for a decent, quick offering to give to your guests or to prepare quickly. Most of us have seen the canned dolmades often found at Greek and Middle Eastern stores. Personally, I am not a fan of the canned variety.
I still prefer to pick my own leaves, prepare a brine and jar them in a similar way to Marianna’s and ultimately, make my own filling and roll Dolmades. After trying Marianna’s Dolmades, I will never buy the canned variety of Dolmades. You get a delicious grape leaf that’s seasoned properly, has a slight tang and you bite into a delicious filling of Arborio rice, sauteed onions and herbs. It’s also refreshing to eat Dolamades where the grape vine leaves are tender and easy to digest. I’ve had some fibrous, hard to eat grape vine leaves which tells me others have overlooked quality to jar/sell tough grape vine leaves to meet consumer demands.
The Kazakis’ use grape vine leaves ONLY from the family vineyards. They are picked in Spring when leaves are still tender yet they’ve grown big enough to be used to roll Dolmades. The family personally inspects batches of grape vine leaves, no pesticides are used, only natural fertilizers meet the soil and their products are still competitively priced, all-natural and certified as organic.
You have three choices or rather two when it comes to making Dolmades: forget about the canned Dolmades you see in the stores. If you live in Greece, you can find Marianna’s grape vine leaves, frozen Dolmades and other goods at finer markets and delis around the Thessaloniki area.
Most of us don’t live in and around Thessaloniki but Marianna’s products are gathering momentum with restauranteurs in Greece and abroad exclusively using “Ta Ampelofylla tis Marianna’s” for their house Dolmades. Costas Spilliadis of Estiatorio Milos uses Marianna’s grape vine leaves. Plans are in the works to make Marianna’s grape vine leaves available in the North American market. There are other jarred grape vine leaves out there and some are good.
I pick and jar my own grape leaves each Spring and I do make my own Dolmades. I brought a jar of Marianna’s grape leaves back with me and I recently made some Dolamdes Gialantzi. The recipe is quite easy, I’ve not fussed too much with the ingredients. I sauteed some onion, toasted the rice and mixed fresh dill, parsley and mint. Pine nuts also are invited to this party. Roll the grape vine leaves, place in a pot or oven-safe vessel, fill with hot water, olive oil and lemon slices and either you can simmer on the stove-top or place in the oven.
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that I also love Dolmades with meat and served with an Avgolemono Sauce. In keeping with the vegetarian theme of this recipe, I’m also skipping the use of eggs and I’ve created a sauce made of onions, extra-virgin olive oil, stock, lemon juice and dill. The emulsifer for this sauce? Rice! I made recently made a grouper with an onion, lemon and prune sauce from my dear friend Stella Spanou and that dish inspired me to create today’s sauce. It’s reminiscent of an Avgolemono but there’s no egg, but that tangy, savory and creamy sauce is velvety, possesses a lovely saffron-esque colour and finished with some chopped fresh dill. I’m calling this my creamy olive oil and lemon sauce.
I loved this sauce as an accompaniment to the Dolmades and I’ve also served it with a pan-fried fish fillet. Look out for Marianna’s grape vine leaves, give Dolmades Gialantzi a go and try this Onion & Lemon Sauce. The recipe is not difficult and this is another example of half the battle being won in the kitchen when you carefully source your ingredients: tender grape vine leaves, quality rice, fresh herbs and a good stock.
40 grape vine leaves (if from a jar, rinsed and pat dry
or blanche for 5 minutes if fresh)
2 Tbsp. of cup extra-virgin olive oil + 1/4 cup
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup Arborio Rice
1 tsp. of tomato paste diluted in 1/2 cup of warm water)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup pine nuts
juice of half lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups of low-sodium vegetable stock
a couple of slices of lemon
Pre-heated 325 F oven
Creamy Olive oil and Lemon Sauce
1 medium white onion, diced
1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock (or water)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. Arborio rice
1 slice of lemon (about 1/2 cm. thick)
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
- Take the leaves out of the jar and snip the stems off the leaves and discard. Rinse under cold water and and drain. Set aside. IF you have fresh grape vine leaves, rinse and then place in boiling salted water for five minutes. Drain and place in an ice-cold water bath, drain. Snip the stems off and set the grape leaves aside.
- In the meantime, place a skillet on your stove-top and add the olive oil (2 Tbsp) along with the onions and saute over medium-love heat for 5-7 minutes or until translucent. Add the rice and stir for a couple of minutes to toast. Now add the diluted tomato paste and stir in. Simmer for another 2-3 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Take off the heat, add the parsley, dill, mint, pine nuts, lemon juice and stir. Season lightly with salt and pepper, stir & taste and adjust seasoning once again. Allow to cool.
- Place your grape vine leaves on a work surface with the skillet full of the rice filling nearby. Place a grape leaf on your work surface (seam side up) and place a scant tsp. of the rice mixture on the middle bottom of the leaf. Fold the bottom of the leaf up, then tuck in the sides of the leaf. Now roll up the leaf to make a cigar containing your rice filling.
- Place a layer of grape vine leaves on the bottom of an oven-safe pot/cooking vessel. Place your rolled dolma in the vessel. Continue rolling the rice filling in the grape vine leaves (as instructed in step #3) and arrange the dolmades in the cooking vessel in a circular fashion. Pre-heat your oven to 325F.
- Pour the remaining 1/4 olive oil over the pot of dolmades, add the hot stock (enough to just cover the dolmades) and place a slice of lemon (or two) on top. Cover and place in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
- In the meantime, add the stock (or water), lemon slice and olive oil in a small pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Now reduce to a simmer, then add the rice. Stir for a minute, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes and stirring occasionally (you don’t want the rice to stick to your bottom/burn). Check to see if your rice is cooked, then remove from the heat and remove the slice(s) of lemon. Puree in a blender or with hand blender until creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, stir in the dill. If you would live more acid, squeeze some of the boiled lemon slice into the sauce. Cover, keep warm.
- Serve with a Malagousia white from the nearby vineyards of Gerovassliou in Epanomi.
If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at http://kalofagas.ca then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.
© 2007-2010 Peter Minakis
© 2010 – 2011,
. All rights reserved.