I believe dolma is just a term meaning "stuffed" - in this case, stuffed onions. I won't lie to you; stuffed vegetable dishes from the Middle East are an absolute chore to prepare, and once the vegetables finally are stuffed, they undergo not one but two cooking methods.
So why would people bother to make them? Well, there's something quite magical about taking the simplest, most minimal, store-cupboard ingredients and turning them into deliciously sweet, substantial savoury treats, which just so happen to be vegan. But promise me, please DO NOT try making these unless you have an afternoon to spare - a rainy afternoon, perhaps, when you fancy tinkering about in the kitchen.
This is the second time I've cooked for this post. The first time was a disaster. I tried making a range of different stuffed vegetables, used the wrong rice, got the timings hideously wrong, and ended up with mush. So let's talk about acceptable ingredients and substitutions.
You need to use a short-grain rice such as carnaroli, arborio, or paella rice, something you'd use for a risotto or a paella. Long-grain rice like basmati breaks down far too quickly and ends up like my first attempt did. You'll see dried fruit in this recipe: currants and apricots. Along with the cinnamon, they give the stuffed onions their sweetness. You can substitute other dried fruits (sultanas or raisins for the currants; possibly dates or dried pears for the apricots). In a sense, this is the ultimate store-cupboard recipe. Think about what you have to hand.
Makes enough filling to stuff 12 onions layers. Serves 3 - 4 as a main with sides; up to 6 as part of a mezze (allowing 2 each).
3 - 4 onions
For the filling:
1/3 cup short-grain rice (85g)
1 medium tomato (or 2 small), peeled and chopped
1/3 cup currants
6 dried apricots, each cut into 6 pieces
a handful of chopped parsley
2 teaspoons dried mint
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
a good pinch of salt
the insides of the prepped onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the stock:
1 pint of water that the onions were pepped in
1 vegetable stock cube
the juice of half a lemon (or that of one small lemon)
olive oil for drizzling
Top, tail, and peel the onions. Make one cut lengthways into each onion no further than the centre of the core.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and pop in the onions. Cook for 8 minutes, turning the onions over every so often with a spoon.
Meanwhile skin your tomato. Score a cross into the skin on the base and another on the top, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water until the skin starts to peel away (about 1 minute). Remove the tomato and refresh it in cold water before peeling off the skin.
Chop into small dice.
Lift the onions out of the cooking water, leaving the water in the pan. Once they're cool enough to handle, gently peel away the top 3 or 4 layers of each one. Following inside each layer with the spoon may help you separate them. You should end up with approximately 12 onion layers in total.
Reserve the water for the stock.
Meanwhile finely chop the insides of the onions and gently fry them in the tablespoon of olive oil.
To assemble the stuffing, place the rice, the chopped tomato, the onion you just fried, and all the other filling ingredients into a large bowl, and give them a thorough mix.
To fill the onion layers, cup one of them in your palm and spoon in the stuffing with a teaspoon. You may find the smaller ones are easier to fill by holding them on their side and adding the stuffing through where they were cut.
Do NOT fill them to the top; leave a bit of space for the rice and the fruit to expand.
As you finish stuffing one, place it at the bottom of a large pan. The onions should be arranged in a single layer, fitting snugly together - which will help them remain intact as they cook. Try to make sure you position them so you can easily get to the openings.
Reheat 1 pint of the reserved pint of water that the onions were cooked in, then add the stock cube, stirring till it dissolves. Add the juice of half a lemon, then gently pour the stock over the the onions.
Bring to a boil, pop the lid on, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, and gently spoon some of the stock into as many of the onions as you can. Replace the lid, and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Time to preheat your oven to 200ºC.
Carefully transfer the onions to a baking dish (such as this pie dish) using a spoon or spoons. Try to place them upside down if you can so any under-cooked rice get a chance to finish. Pour a quarter of the remaining stock over them, making sure each onion's stuffing receives a little, then drizzle a little olive oil over the top.
Phew; we're almost there! Pop them into the preheated oven for 15 minutes.
Et voila! It's a lot of fiddly work, but to create something like these sweet yet savoury onions out of practically nothing takes a lot of care, love, and time.
Any questions? You can use the comments form at the bottom of the page.
Did you know?
You'll find recipes at the back of all the books in the Send for Octavius Guy series: