Foods and recipes don’t only nourish our bodies, but they also sustain fond traditions and memories. Some dishes are easy, reliable, family favorites while others might be old and beloved holiday staples. Alexandra Stratou understands this well. In Cooking with Loula (Artisan Books, 2016), she invites readers to visit the kitchen where her family has met and cooked and eaten together for generations. From Greek classics to modern meals, Stratou presents a variety of favorite, satisfying, and soulful recipes from a real Greek family.
Kyria Loula always made our dolmadakia. They were tightly rolled, tiny, and tasty. Toward the final years of her life, when she had slowly withdrawn from her cooking responsibilities, she would sit patiently in her home and make them for my mother. Cooking gave Kyria Loula a raison d’être. It was the time she managed to give to others but also to herself. I believe being a good cook requires acceptance of one’s self, even if just for the time spent in the kitchen. Unconsciously or not, when cooking for others, every cook must view themselves as an integral part of a process, and accept their ability to contribute positively to the outcome.
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, grated
• 2 cups (300 grams) uncooked white rice
• 1/2 cup (60 grams) pine nuts, toasted
• 1/2 cup (70 grams) golden raisins
• 1/2 cup finely chopped dill (about 1/2 bunch)
• 1/3 cup finely chopped mint (about 1/2 bunch)
• Salt and pepper
• 80 grape leaves
• 1 cup (200 grams) Greek yogurt
1. Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion, and cook until soft and translucent. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the rice, pine nuts, golden raisins, and herbs. Stir until everything is evenly dispersed. Season with salt and pepper and stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
2. Lay a grape leaf, smooth side down, on a cutting board and cut off any thick stems. Put 1/2 tablespoon of filling at the base, fold over, tuck in the sides, then roll up all the way. Avoid rolling too tightly, as the rice will expand while cooking. Repeat with the remaining grape leaves and filling.
3. Line the bottom of a large pot with grape leaves. Add the dolmadakia to the pot in a single layer, fitting them snugly into the pot in a spiral. Continue adding spiraling layers until all the dolmadakia have been added. Season with salt, add a drizzle of olive oil, and cover with a plate. Add water to the pot until the dolmadakia, but not the plate, are covered. Partially cover the pan with a lid, and simmer over medium low heat for 40 to 45 minutes, adding water as needed to keep the dolmadakia from burning. Check for doneness and remove from the heat when the rice is cooked and the water has mostly evaporated. Serve on small plates with a dollop of yogurt on the side.
Tip: You can use grape leaves from a jar, or if you find them fresh, simply submerge them in boiling water for a few minutes, then drain and let cool before stuffing.
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Excerpted from Cooking with Loula by Alexandra Stratou (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Ioanna Roufopoulou.