If you live in New Orleans you have probably enjoyed lunch at one of Mona’s Cafe’s four locations. I’m especially a fan of their Mid City location on Banks Street, as it includes a small middle eastern grocery store, packed full of hard to find sundries. (As a side note, if you buy olive oil by the gallon, you can’t beat their prices). On evenings when I would rather not cook, a simple dinner of meze (small dishes) is a perfect way to avoid the kitchen and Mona’s offers a great selection to choose from. Recently I loaded up a basket with, among other, pita bread, yogurt, taramasalata and what I thought were juicy stuffed grapes leaves. Hungry from the day and ready to enjoy a no fuss dinner, I was rather disappointed to discover that I had purchased preserved, unprepared grape leaves, not the plump dolmades I was expecting.

A few days later I decided, rather then let them molder, to put the grape leaves to good use, stuffing them with a fragrant combination of rice, lemon, and herbs.

Dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves are a classic meze served throughout the Meditteranean and Middle East. We did my Greek roots proud and served our dolmades with grilled lamb chops and tzatziki.

While, this is a recipe of few ingredients it take patience as you need to cook the rice, roll the dolmas and then cook the rolls. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare.

When finished, you’ll be left with a delicious finger food to eat warm and new out of the pot or a lovely, lemony snack for the next day.

Dolmades (makes 30)

1 tbsp EVOO
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp dill, minced
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 cup long grain, white rice
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste

Approximately 30 grape leaves
2 cups  chicken or vegetable broth
Juice of 1.5 lemons

Before you begin, drain the grape leaves and let sit in warm water for 30 minutes

In the meantime heat 1 tbsp EVOO in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until very soft, being careful not to brown or burn, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, lemon zest and juice, rice and chicken or vegetable stock. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook until rice is al dente, about 10 minutes. Stir in dill and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and let cool.

Thickly line a dutch oven or heavy pot with the excess grape leaves you do not intend to use. This will protect the dolmades from burning as you cook them. When the rice is cool, drain the grape leaves and begin to stuff each. Lay each leaf on a cutting board or flat surface stem (if they have one) side down. Remove the stem and place 1 teaspoon of rice at the base of the leaf. carefully, beginning at the lower edges fold the sides of the leaf over the rice and then roll the entire parcel upwards until tight and no rice shows. Softly press the leaf with your hand and set in the dutch oven, seam side down. Repeat until you have no rice left, layering the dolmades in the pot as you run out of room.

Add 2 cups of vegetable or chicken broth and lemon juice. The liquid should come about half way up the first layer of dolmades.

Cover and bring to a low simmer. Cook for 20 minutes.

Eat hot, warm or let cool for tomorrow.