Greece: On Working with Grape Leaves

Before I get to my thoughts on grape leaves, I should provide some background…I hosted this dinner, the first formal international supper club, last summer in our small apartment in Corvallis, OR. It was inspired primarily by talk of a 2018 graduation trip to Greece. Okay…I’ll admit, Trader Joe’s (then) new canned dolmas (also called dolmades) had something to do with it too. I had recently tasted these dolmas and wanted to replicate them, but I had no idea how to obtain grape leaves. I did some googling and found that the Corvallis Mediterranean Cafe was probably my best and only option. The phone number listed on their website says “text only” next to it. I drafted my text explaining that I was looking for fresh grape leaves for dolmas and hit send. Within two minutes, I had a response that they did not carry grape leaves in their market, however, they had some ordered in bulk for the cafe that they would be willing to sell to me. I explained how many I needed and arranged to pick them up. This story may not be extremely relevant to planning a greek feast but I had to share it because I was so incredibly impressed with this place. They counted out exactly how many leaves I had asked for, perfect leaves without a single tear or folded edge, and charged me an even lower price than I had agreed to via text. They went above and beyond, and it made all the difference. With grape leaves in hand, I let myself get carried away planning Greek dishes to serve along with my dolmas…

Shopping and cooking for this meal began around 8am and dinner was served at 8pm which made for a nice, long day of cooking. I had several vegetarian friends in attendance so I aimed to keep most dishes meat-free. Overall, the meal was fantastic…made even better by a generous supply of ouzo to add to the Greek ambiance.

Our apartment was small for entertaining, but some fresh flowers and decorative napkins livened it up!

After cooking this meal, I have come to the conclusion that Greek cooks must have the most delicate, deft hands in the world. I can’t decide which was more difficult to work with….the many layers of phyllo dough in the baklava or the easily tearable grape leaves. Though I am very happy with the end result, I hereby claim that I will never voluntarily work with grape leaves again. If you don’t tear them when you initially pick them up, you are sure to do so when you begin trying to roll them. I may eventually learn to work with phyllo dough, but I have no hope whatsoever of mastering the art of grape leaves. That being said, I personally loved the dolmas (not everyone felt the same though) and the baklava was the biggest hit of the night.

Baklava, fresh out of the oven.
Decorated and ready to serve!

The tzatziki recipe that I used was very simple and delicious; it paired well with just about everything else and is something I have made on numerous occasions since this dinner.

As a huge lover of bread, I decided to double the sourdough pita recipe which proved completely unnecessary. I cut each pita into quarters for easy dipping, and there was plenty to go around. The pita was not terribly sourdough-y, but this could be the fault of my relatively young sourdough starter.

The Greek salad was not a standout dish. It was refreshing and summery, but tasted like something you could get as a side salad at most restaurants.

The avgolemono, reminiscent of Italian stracciatella, is something that I make quite often now. It is extremely simple, only 4-5 ingredients which I usually have on hand (i.e., lemon, egg, broth, orzo, salt & pepper). The soup is light and refreshing and can be made extra tart for lemon-lovers like me. I have done it with both chicken broth and vegetable broth and don’t notice a huge difference in taste, both are great, however chicken broth achieves a nicer, bright yellow color.

The domatokeftedes, or tomato fritters, were probably the only major flop of the meal, however, I attribute this to the fact that I used coconut flour instead of regular flour in an attempt to cater to our one gluten-free guest. I would be willing to try these again with normally flour, but don’t recommend the overly sweet, strange texture that resulted from coconut flour in this recipe.

The Greek stuffed peppers were very tasty, in fact, the filling itself is delicious on it’s own if you don’t feel like putting in the effort to stuff them (add some chopped bell pepper to the mix if you still want that flavor!). Make sure to use more broth than you think you need because the arborio rice absorbs it so readily and the end result can be slightly crunchy if it drys out.

Having completed a few of these dinners now, I have to say our first Greek dinner was one of my very favorites. This is a great dinner to host in summer when fresh, local vegetables are readily available.

All of the recipes that I used to create this meal are listed below. The blog, Souvlaki For The Soul, was particularly helpful in familiarizing myself with Greek cuisine.

From my extensive googling, it appears that a common way to say ‘Cheers!’ in Greek is to say ‘Yamas’ which is short for ‘Stin Yeia Mas’ which means to our health.

So until next post, grab a glass of ouzo and enjoy some Greek cuisine.

Tzatziki — The Mediterranean Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone
Sourdough pita —
Greek salad — BBC GoodFood
Dolmades — The Food Network
Avgolemono — About Food
Domatokeftedes — Souvlaki For The Soul
Greek stuffed peppers — Souvlaki For The Soul
Baklava — Natasha’s Kitchen


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