hellas

by

Photo Credit: Channing Kehoe

“This might be the last group trip we ever go on,” Sami and I told ourselves, climbing into the tour bus. We remembered field trips, overnight camping trips in middle school, community service trips, study abroad … we’ve sure been lucky in quantity and quality of trips. This recent spring break trip was through the Gallatin Deans Honor Society, a lofty name for a group of kids and professors that meet every other week to discuss, well, this year, Greece. And then we got to go there. So that was great.

Inspired before we even packed our bags, we experimented with dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), and brought them to our meeting for everyone to try. While these stuffed grape leaves grace many a standard salad bar and can be purchased in the frozen food section of your local grocery store, the homemade version is a different experience altogether. Ask Sami, who wouldn’t even try them the first time we made them — her experience up to that point with the dish was with the dense, turdlike dolmas, which seriously resemble in appearance and texture those owl pellets we used to dissect in science class. But ask her again now, three or four batches in.

What makes these so special? They are orphanos, or meatless — but hold your association with gelatinous rice filling — ours are stuffed with brown rice steamed with onions, garlic and dill, mixed with chopped raisins and toasted pine nuts and drizzled with olive oil and lemon. And they are remarkably airy inside (due to what many consider a dolma making faux pa, but I would call a fresh idea).

At the bottom of this post we’ve shared our recipe. But first — a little bit about our travels.

Transportation — We left for Greece twice. We packed (throwing in sandals just in case), stopped for a bloody mary send-off at Henry Public, and splashed our way to NYU campus in the pouring rain. 11 hours later we returned to Henry Public after a day of airport food and a foul weather frenzy at JFK. One late night out later, we were off again. This time, after much anxiety we got off the ground, and made it to London before the next travel hang-up. A night in a London Holiday Inn, complete with shrimp-and-mayonaise sandwiches was the only leftover snag between our group and Athens. For the rest of the trip the transportation issues continued: we encountered several 4+ hour bus rides, and a British Airways strike that delayed half our group’s departure by 3 days. But you know what the thing about school trips is? None of it was our job to figure out. Our job was to be cheerful and to listen at the ruins and to eat as many courses as we could. We played Taboo through the bus rides and one epic 2 hour game of Botticelli, which is like 20 Questions, but more fun. On other trips, figuring out the travel arrangements is part of the experience — how, exactly, are we going to find the bus depot where the bus leaves from Casablanca to Essaouira? But on this one, it wasn’t, and for this trip, that was to be appreciated.

What we saw is best conveyed through pictures.

(Photo Credit: Molly Gilbert)

The city of Athens

(Photo Credit: Sami Feld)

A hike up a hill on Day 1.

(Photo Credit: Molly Gilbert)

Epidaurus.

This picture does not accurately represent the number of Italian teenagers present.

(Photo Credit: Caroline Ritson)

Delphi

(Photo Credit: Channing Kehoe)

Graffiti in Psiri.

And even though we saw so many more beautiful things than shown in these few photos, we can’t leave out the parts of the trip spent cooped up in hotel rooms, in tourist bars, and on that tour bus with our guide, Miss Cleo.

Snuggling on the 3 twin beds of the Bass/Feld family suite.

And even though the traveling arrangements were frustrating and exhausting …

(Photo Credit: Lisa Bass)

Because of the strike, we ended up on a thing called “Open Skies” on the way home, which is the swankiest way I’ve ever flown.

(Photo Credit: Molly Gilbert)

THE END.

except you haven’t made our dolmas recipe yet!

Dolmas:

Dolmas have become a special event staple. I made them for Easter when Dan’s family met my family. (Unlike Sami pre-revelation, my dad can devour a dozen of this favorite food, no problemo). Sami made them last Sunday for organizers and guests at a vigil for Josh and the other two hikers held in Iran. We’ve got leaves in the fridge now, begging for a big pot of rice.

Grape Leaves —

You can either buy jarred grape leaves, or “fresh” grape leaves. We use an in-between kind … at Sahadi’s down the street we can buy grape leaves by the pound from big buckets. They are cheap and we’ve overbought each time but one. At $3.45/lb it’s easy, because even 1 lb is at least 40 leaves. They aren’t fresh, but they are easy to pull apart and not as oily as those that come in jars. But jarred and fresh work as well, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t happen to have the best discount Middle Eastern grocery in town on your block.

Filling —

2 cups brown rice.

1 yellow onion, diced.

1 clove garlic, minced.

1 handful raisins.

1 handful pine nuts.

4 tbsp fresh dill. (Spices are negotiable. Work with your spice rack to find an available option for you.)

We have also added: mint, oregano, thyme, and a mix called “Mediterranean meat spice.”

Salt.

Later you’ll need:

Lemon Juice

Olive Oil

Add water and rice in a 2:1 ratio to pot, along with onion and garlic, dried spices, and salt. Bring to boil, then simmer according to your brown rice instructions. (Ours usually takes about 40 min). In the mean time, coarsely chop raisins if you want to. Toast the pine nuts briefly over medium heat. When most of the liquid is gone, add raisins, pine nuts and fresh spices (dill, mint …) Continue to simmer until liquid has disappeared. Let cool.

To fold: Spread grape leave with dark green, flat side facing up and stem pointed towards you. Place a lump of filling about the size of a fun-size candy bar (the rectangle ones, not the tiny square ones) in the middle of the leaf. Fold up from the bottom a small amount, and then fold each side inward. Continue to roll up from the bottom until the entire leaf is wrapped around the filling. Place in casserole/baking dish seam-side down.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. (Know that this is when it might come to blows with anyone who remembers your Greek great – grandma … she cooked her dolmas on the stovetop.)

When the baking dish is packed full of dolmas, drizzle lightly with olive oil. Add equal parts water and lemon juice to cover dolmas at least very close to completely.

Bake for 45 min, or until liquid is evaporating and your oven threatens to singe the dolmas.

Note: Most old greek recipes require weighing the dolmas down with something heavy. I think this is exactly what has spawned the dense demon dolmas that haunt our salad bars … if you wrap them tightly enough there is no need to weigh them down. The dolmas are less like bricks this way.

So now you are in on our newest secret. Dolmas are actually tasty, and better yet, they are so easy to make. And finger food is always appreciated by … most honest humans. Serve with extra lemons if you like!

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2 Responses to “hellas”

  1. E. Adams Says:

    Dolmas, never dull! Thanks for a great recipe. You’re more amazing than a dozen dolmas. Thanks again.

  2. Eleni Says:

    cute trip pix and great recipe! a fresh update on the old ones — easier than the stovetop and just as tasty. Yummy!

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