Friday, 27 February 2009

Cabbage rolls - lahanodolmades (Λαχανοντολμάδες)

This year's cabbage harvest was quite a good one. With very little effort, we produced ten organic cabbage heads. The rain provided all the irrigation, and we simply waited till they grew to a suitable size before cutting them. Today, a very wet cold wintery day in Hania, with Alaska making her appearance in the mountainous areas of Crete and right around the country, I used two of those cabbage heads to make one of my favorite winter recipes, Greek cabbage rolls, lahanodolmades, a meal I almost forgot to make until Tangled Noodle featured her version on her post.

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Two different mixtures: mince and herbed rice (left) or simply herbed rice. They can be cooked int he same pot or kept separate (I cooked them in two pots).

My mother always made lahanodolmades with the same stuffing that she used to make regular dolmades, dolmadakia and yemista; they were always vegan, and I still prefer them that way. Not so my husband. His mother added mince to her version, and being the gourmet eater that Mr OC is, I decided to make two different pots to suit my eaters' tastes. I am the only one whose tastes will not be completely satisfied today: the third variation of lahanodolmades is another vegan version using pinenuts and currants, with the addition of cinammon, tending towards a Middle Eastern influence. Cabbage rolls can be cooked both in the oven and on the stove top; I find the stove top more efficient, while the oven version is tastier. Mince-based lahanodolmades are usually cooked on the stove top and served in an avgolemono sauce, while the vegan varieties are served in a lemon sauce (to keep them vegan during fasting periods). For a vegetarian twist to the vegan versions, they are often accompanied by thick Greek strained yoghurt (my children love rice and yoghurt). The variations of Greek-style lahanodolmades are so many that there is something to suit everyone's tastes.

To make cabbage rolls, you need to boil the whole head of cabbage intact. Only then will it soften enough so that the leaves can be separated easily. The best way is to remove the root carefully before placing the cabbage in a pot of boiling water.

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The cabbage leaves are not as fragile as they appear; once filled with the stuffing of your choice, they will hold their shape well. At this stage, I would place a few of them in a small plastic bowl and put them in the freezer; lahanodolmades are a fiddly dish and you'll be able to have a meal ready to cook on a busier day.

Whether you cook them in a saucepan or the oven, to avoid the rolls sticking to the base of the pan, cover the base with some cabbage leaves. Place the cabbage rolls on top of these leaves, then top the pan (or tin) with more cabbage leaves to keep the rolls moist throughout the cooking period. If you cook them on the stove top, you need to weigh them down (with a plate) for the first 15 minutes of cooking time, enough time for the rice to expand and stick to the cabbage leaves.

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Vegetarian (top left saucepan and the top part of the plate) and mince-rice lahanodolmades. The mince rolls have been dressed in and egg and lemon sauce. No, the foam appearing in the meal wasn't produced for effect; the molecular gastronomy of the dish simply worked out that way.
This is yiayia's portion. At 85, she eats little. She'll make two meals out of this.

All the pot needs is to a mixture of olive oil and water poured over them, just enough to cover the rolls. Then let them cook away slowly, with a lid on the pot; they won't need much time on the stove top, just enough for the rice to cook. If you want to serve them with an egg and lemon sauce (as I did the mince version), make and add it according to this recipe.

Once cooked, they can be easily picked out of the pan without breaking up. They make a very filling meal, and they are great comfort food on a cold winter's day. They are also a very versatile meal that can be made to suit vegans, vegetarians and carnivores at the same time without draining the energy away to the cook.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Laurie from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.

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