So Christmas is nearly upon us!
Are you dreaming of stress-free Christmas? Are you wishing for a quiet one? Are you praying for a fuss-free family meal?
Well I’m afraid you’re unlucky! I cannot make an easy fast and stress free Greek recipe appear out of thin air! Christmas dinners are always special. This will always involve a recipe and ingredients that are rarely used. Things that we labour for hours above a hot stove. For this special once-in-a-year meal that is festive, delicious and brings everyone in the family on the table to share it with you!
So I’ve been thinking about this one for a little while; what is more sharing and special other than stuffed cabbage leaves with mince pork and egg-lemon sauce? What else can be so quintessentially Greek? So here we go…
You will all be familiar with the stuffed vine leaves; this is essentially the same, only we use cabbage, which is a winter vegetable. Surprise, surprise! In Greece you get very heavy winters too, especially in the North! The vine leaves are collected from vineyards in May… These are the best and most tender ones. In winter -hence in Christmas time- the most tender and delicious vegetable is cabbage!
This is a traditional recipe from the island of Corfu. One of the best I’ve ever tried! Similar dishes one can find all over North Greece too!
So get your hands on some nice tender whole big green cabbage!
Preparation time: 2 hrs 30mins
Serves: 8 people
For the stuffing:
- 150g pancetta or smoked bacon finely chopped
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
- 500g lean pork mince
- 1 1/2 cups tomato finely chopped tomatoes (use fresh or Santorini canned)
- 2/3 of a cup Carolina rice
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- a pinch of smoked chilli flakes
- unrefined sea salt
- black pepper
- 1 cup of fresh and finely chopped parsley
- 2/3 of a cup hard myzithra cheese
- 5 spring onions finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock
For the sauce:
- 1/2 -1 cups of chicken stock
- ½ cup tomato juice (using Santorini concentrated tomato paste)
- 1 egg
- 2-4 tbsps of lemon juice
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tsps corn flour
- black pepper
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
In a big saucepan bring the water to boil together with 2 tbsps salt. With a sharp knife cut the cabbage heart and separate the leaves. Fill another saucepan or any other deep bowl with cold water. Blanch the cabbage leaves few at a time in the boiling water till they get a little wilted; this will take between 3 to 5 minutes depending on size. Transfer the ones that are ready to the bowl with the cold water and then in a colander. If you do that the previous day, make sure you put the leaves in the fridge covered up.
Preparing the filling:
In a large frying pan sauté the pancetta until it gets some colour, for approximately 5mins. Add the olive oil and the onion and sauté stirring occasionally for about another 5mins until soft. Add the mince and stir often for another 5mins, until it gets brown. Add the tomatoes, rice, wine, chilli flakes and as much salt as you want. Let it boil for a little while, turn off the heat, add parsley, cheese, spring onions and black pepper.
Stuffing the leaves:
Once the stuffing is cold enough to handle start making your dolmades. Place the big harder leaves on the bottom of the saucepan in order for your dolmades not to stick while they are cooking.
Take a bit of the stuffing and place it in the middle of one leaf of cabbage. Fill the leaf 1/3 of its surface. Wrap the edges of the leaf like a little package. Squeeze it in your hands gently so you will rid of most the liquids. Do this over a bowl, as you’ll use the liquid later. After finishing each leaf place it in the saucepan with the joint side facing down. Once you finish with the big leaves continue with the smaller ones using two at a time if necessary. You will make approximately two tight layers of stuffed cabbage leaves in the saucepan. Put –on top of the stuffed cabbage leaves- a fireproof dish so they won’t move around when cooking and boiling. Pour over the liquid you kept when you squeezed the stuffed cabbage leaves and as much of the stock as needed; just about enough to cover the leaves, not more. Place the saucepan on the hob and bring to boil. Then turn the heat down to simmer covered for 35-40mins. Keep checking if there is enough stock in the saucepan. Tip: Let them cool down completely and then put them in the fridge for the next day. This way they will taste much, much better!
Ending and sauce:
30mins before you serve them put the saucepan with the dolma on the hob over medium heat. Let them warm up for about 15mins. Put them on a hot big serving plate, and cover them with foil. Keep them warm. Meanwhile in the saucepan make the sauce with the stock and all the liquids together no more than two cups. Add the tomato juice. Boil in low heat for about 5mins. Meanwhile whisk the egg, 2 tbsps of lemon juice and 2 tbsps water. In another small bowl whisk the corn flour with 2 tbsps of water and mix this with the egg. Whisking and stirring constantly mix the sauce with the egg-corn flour-lemon mixture, half a cup at a time. You will have 1 1/2 t o2 cups of sauce to mix. Transfer this in the saucepan and bring to boil whisking and stirring constantly till the sauce has thickened. Taste and correct the flavour with salt and/or pepper or lemon. Pour half of it over the dolmades and keep the rest for the serving plates.