Monday, February 26, 2018

Revamping Leftovers into Fancy Deliciousness

My kids have been giving me issues about eating rice lately. It makes it challenging to cook for them, because as it is, they don't eat gluten, and give me issues with I attempt to serve alternative grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, millet, and corn meal....  They aren't opposed to all rice- they'll eat it in sushi, they love stuffed grape leaves, enjoy rice porridge, and rice noodles, but I try making rice sometimes and hoping they'll eat it, and often get left with a bunch of leftovers.

This last time I made rice was no exception, and I'll admit it- I flopped it. The rice was cooking with chicken and tomato paste, but didn't even cook evenly. There were parts of the rice that were hard and undercooked, so getting anyone to eat that rice wasn't going to happen. I didn't want to throw out my large pan of rice, so I thought to revamp it into dolmades, but instead of using the standard grape leaves to stuff, I picked some large wild swiss chard/sea beet (beta vulgaris maritima) and beet leaves to stuff.

Beta vulgaris maritima on the right, beet leaves on the left. Very similar looking other than the color of the veins.
Because my rice was already tomato flavored, I thought to flavor it in a Greek way, with mint and dill and onion, the same way I season my stuffed peppers and zucchini (even if this isn't the standard seasoning Greeks use for stuffing their vine leaves), so added that to my leftover tomatoey rice, and mixed it well. I also added some more salt and lemon juice, because part of the appeal of dolmades, in my opinion, is their acidity.

 I attempted to make these rolls multiple ways, flopping them many times, until I finally figured out the trick.
Raw leaves cracked when I tried to roll them up. The midrib of the leaves also got in the way of rolling them up.
The way that worked for me was first soaking all of the leaves in boiling water to soften them, then cutting off whatever part of the midrib that I could. After cutting it, I used my nails to scrape them down even further, so that the leaf was totally flexible.

Depending on the shape and size of the leaf, I either rolled them lengthwise or widthwise. The largest leaves I cut into two and turned into two dolmades.

For the leaves that were too small, I actually used two leaves overlapped to make the rolling easier and have the rice stay inside, with one leaf going sideways and one leaf up and down, in a T shape, and it worked amazingly.

I lined a pot with a few leaves and then put the rolled dolmades, seam side down, going in circles, until the bottom of the pot was totally full. This helps them hold together while cooking. I then did another layer, and put a heat safe plate that fit the pot perfectly on top of the dolmades to hold them down. Since my plate wasn't very flat, I was worried the dolmades in the center might float up to where the plate was, so I put a few pieces of sliced potato on top to hold them in place and take up the extra space.
I added water and more lemon juice and salt to cover the plate.
To stop the plate from moving, I added a bowl filled with water on top of the plate to weigh it down.

I then brought it to a simmer, and then simmered it on a low heat for 30 minutes.

Once cooled, I removed the plate and saw this deliciousness.

And yes, it is amazing.

My kids also really enjoyed these!

But I'm making a fancy dinner very shortly, and I'm planning on serving them, because they are so great, and are nice enough to serve for such an event.

I love that I was able to take something that was otherwise destined for the garbage, and turned it into something fit for a king's table.

P.S. If you want to do something similar and have plain rice, add the same things I added, plus tomato paste, to make yours. And you can use grape leaves, mallow leaves, hollyhock leaves, regular swiss chard leaves, collard greens, kale, you take your pick.

What type of food often gets leftover in your house? Have you ever found a creative way to repurpose that into something even better? Does this look like something you'd try?


  1. Yum! I love stuffed grape leaves and I even have a jar of grape leaves in my cupboard. Question, do you use fresh lemon juice or the bottled stuff? Fresh lemons are expensive here. Thanks!

  2. Love dolma too. I like the idea of weighing them down. My nasturtium leaves get huge in the garden this time of year and make a great dolma. Thank you for a great tip.


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