Dolmathes are one of those things, like sushi, which look more difficult than they truly are. Take a platter of these to a party to look like a hero, and if you are using your own grapes, cut a length of vine to use as decoration for the tray.
I love making Dolmathes for the meditative qualities of the process. A mildly fussy series of simple tasks, that when complete lead to a sense of esthetic pleasure…at least for me.
There are commercially available preserved grape leaves and those are perfectly fine…but I am fortunate to have a grape vine in the garden and enjoy choosing the leaves right before making the wraps.
If made without meat, these are vegetarian and if served without the Avgolemono sauce, they are also vegan. For vegetarians make the sauce with either water or a vegetable stock.
My family recipe uses currants and raisins, which I have exchanged for cranberries…because Canada.
If made with meat, dolmathes are most commonly made with lamb…or possibly goat.
If using fresh leaves, choose leaves that are big enough (at least 5" across) to contain a full tablespoon of filling, but young enough to be tender.
It's best to use the scissors to cut the leaves from the vine, as they can be difficult to simply pick and you don't want to rip the leaves or damage the plant,
Pick a few more leaves than you want dolmathes...you will use some to line the pot and it never hurts to have spares.
Wash the grape leaves in a colander or salad spinner and then lay them flat in a pie plate, shallow soup bowl or other broad flat container with a rim.
Pour boiling hot water over them, leave them to wilt for a few minutes, then drain. This will make them pliable when you wrap them around the rice mixture.
Set the grape leaves aside while you prepare the rice.
Saute the onion in the olive oil until fragrant and transparent.
Add the rice, the dill and and the cranberries stirring after each addition until fully coated in the oil.
Add one of the two cups of stock in the first ingredient group to the rice and cook the rice without stirring, until the liquid is absorbed.
Turn the heat off and allow the rice to cool a bit for handling.
When the rice has cooled, place a wilted or preserved grape leaf on a large plate and put a spoonful of filling in the centre of the leaf.
Begin rolling the dolmathes from the bottom of the leaf, folding the two bottom-most 'flaps upwards over the filling and folded towards each other.
Roll the tightly wrapped bottom of the dolma up towards the tip of the leaf.
Line the rice cooker or saucepan with grape leaves and begin stacking the tightly wrapped dolmas in a circle, fitting the dolmas as tightly as possible.
Once you have the dolmas in a tightly packed circle, or series of stacked and packed circles, add enough stock or water to cover the entire contents.
Cover with a plate, then weigh this down to keep the dolmathes from swelling up and bursting.
Then, cover the rice cooker and set to cook. When the cooker changes state, set the dolmathes aside while preparing the Avgolemono Sauce.
Use fresh lemons only for this sauce. The flavour is all about the lemon, so you want the best.
To juice one or two lemons, I tend to use a fork or spoon, either of which does a surprisingly good job. If I am juicing many, the best thing is to use an electric citrus juicer. Not much bigger than the standard glass models and they get every drop of juice out in seconds per lemon.
Likewise, use only the freshest free-range eggs. The difference will show in the flavour.
Put the very fresh, excellent eggs into the top of a double-boiler or heatproof bowl.
Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and stir into the eggs with a whisk.
Add simmering hot stock in a thin steady stream, while continuing to stir with the whisk and keeping the egg from congealing on the bowl.
Keep stirring until the sauce thickens slightly (for a thicker sauce, use less stock relative to the egg/lemon mixture.
When the sauce is cooked and properly stirred, it will change from the bright gold it originally was, to a paler, creamier yellow.
At this point, just before removing from the heat, stir in a bit of finely minced dill.