Last year while congregated with some good friends for late-night dining in Thessaloniki, I had the joy to eat these Onion Dolmades at a taverna in Thessaloniki. I’ve been wanting to make these for a few years but I was frankly intimidated by the whole process of peeling the onions and stuffing them. Would the task be long and arduous and would stuffing the onions be a pain in the ass? The short answer is NO and NO and I’ll soon demonstrate to you how easy this recipe is.
These stuffed onions seem to appear in various regions of Greece and with many different names: I’ve read of ‘Kremmido-Dolmades” from Zakynthos, there’s Kremmidia Gemista, Sougania (Mytilini) and Chef and cooking personality Argiro Barbarigou adds that they are called Kelemia in Galaxidi. The regional recipes vary with some being served with a tomato sauce, others with an Avgolemono Sauce and I’m serving them as I had them in Thessaloniki…with a cooling yogurt sauce to offer balance to the onions.
Onions in Greek are called “Kremmidia”, hence the word appearing in the Greek name of this dish. The reference to Dolmades relates these stuffed onions to the more well-known stuffed grape leaves and stuffed cabbage rolls. The filling I’ve used for the Onion Dolmades is based on my family’s master recipe for Stuffed Peppers (with varied recipes being used in Vine Leaves Stuffed with Meat & Rice) and another family fave, Cabbage Rolls with Avgolemono Sauce.
Separating the layers of onions is rather easy: the ends of the onions are ever so slightly sliced off (so your onions don’t come apart) and simply blanching them in boiling salted water until they are soft and open like a clam. Once cooled, the onions need only be snipped at each end to make unraveling each layer, leaving you with natural onion “baskets” – just begging to be filled! Have you have Onion Dolmades before? Where did you have them and what were they called?
Onion Dolmades (Κρεμμυδοντολμάδες)
(serves 4-6 as a main & more as a meze)
approx. 15-16 large, elongated white or red onions
approx. 1lb. or 1/2 kg. of lean ground beef
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup Arborio rice
1 cup tomato puree (or your favourite canned or jarred variety)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
enough hot (or low sodium stock) to just cover your onion dolmades (about 2 cups)
1 cup Plain yogurt
reserved vegetable or chicken stock
fresh parsley and dill + sweet paprika for garnish
Pre-heated 375F oven
- Place a large pot of water on your stove-top and bring to a boil. In the meantime, cut the two ends of your onions (just and peel off the outer skins. Now cut into each onion along the length of it right through to the center (about halfway down). When your water comes to a boil, add a good a amount of salt and carefully drop your onions into the boiling water. Simmer for 5-6 minutes or until the onions are soft to the touch and have opened up like a clam. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and allow to cool (about 10 minutes).
- Carefully remove each layer of onion until you are left with the heart of the onion. Reserve the hearts (centers) in a bowl and continue to unravel your onions. You should now have a plate full of onion shells and a bowl of onion hearts, finely chop the onion hearts.
- Place a large skillet on your stove-top and add the olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped onions and garlic and saute while stirring for 5 minutes. Now add the rice and stir in until well coated then add the tomato puree. Simmer while stirring until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Remove from the heat and add your chopped parsley, dill and mint. Allow to cool before adding your ground beef. Mix the ground beef in with a wooden spoon along with the salt and pepper (you may make a meatball and fry it off to test & adjust seasoning).
- To fill the onion shells, open them up with one hand and take about a tsp. of the rice & meat mixture place inside. Roll the onion around the filling and place the onion (seem side-down into an oven-safe pot or Dutch oven. Continue to fill all the onions with the meat/rice mixture and arrange the stuffed onions in a circular fashion in your baking vessel.
- Pre-heat your oven (375F, middle rack) and drizzle with olive oil and enough hot water (or stock) to just cover your stuffed onions. Season lightly with more salt and pepper. Place the cover on your baking vessel and insert in the oven. Baked covered for about 45 minutes and then uncovered for another 15 minutes. Allow to cool a bit before serving.
- In the meantime, mix some plain yogurt with some stock until you’ve reached the consistency you desire. Arrange the Onion Dolmades on a platter or divide into portions and spoon over the yogurt, sprinkle some sweet paprika. Serve with a crisp Pavlou Estate Kappa P11. This white is a “blanc-noir”, made of Riesling and Xinomavro grapes. The skins of the Xinomavro are removed early so that the wine does not become a “red”.
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