I made these as a fundraiser for disaster relief agencies on the ground in Beirut after the chemical blast in August that made thousands homeless and reduced large parts of the city to rubble. Life in 2020 isn’t easy for anyone, and there are so many organisations that need our support that it can dull the charitable instinct into submission. Does one help people at home, next door,  in the same country? Refugees fleeing war and persecution? Children starving in African villages with no food or running water?
It’s all relative, but with more resources than I need I always try to help where I can – every little bit adds up, I reckon.

The Lebanese Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and many other international aid agencies have been working tirelessly there to bring some comfort to the citizens who have been buffeted not just by political drama but an explosion the size of a nuclear bomb. You can follow the links to read more about the ongoing relief efforts there, and to make a donation if you can.

The @sahteinbeirut challenge asked people to cook a Levantine dish and make a donation to one of the charities working there. I immediately thought of dolmades (besides which everyone else seemed to be making falafel and houmous).

We used to make loads of these in the catering kitchen as they are such a delicious mouthful of contasting textures and flavours, slightly exotic with flavours of the Mediterranean and Middle East, and always a perfect vegetarian starter or addition to a sharing platter.
They can be a bit time consuming to prepare – and require advance planning as the filling needs to be made a day ahead – but so worth the effort, and if you break down the stages it’s instantly more manageable and rolling the little rice parcels is quite a zen activity especially if you’ve got some good music on or an interesting podcast.

This version was cobbled together from memory, based on a Claudia Roden classic (I couldn’t find the cookbook), and the only ingredient I had to buy was the vine leaves, easily sourced in my local Turkish shop. They keep well in a sealed container, for random snacking events throughout the day.

I served mine with quick flatbreads, tabbouleh and a yoghurt sauce for dipping.

Ingredients

Makes 20 small-medium ones

For the filling:
1 cup Baldo or other short-grain/pudding rice

1 red onion

3 cloves garlic

1 fresh red chilli, deseeded if necessary

200g tinned chopped tomato (use a good quality one). This is half a tin, the other half will go in the cooking sauce.

100ml water

15ml olive oil

1tsp ground cinnamon

3tsp dried mint

Generous pinch of sumac

Pinch of cayenne pepper to taste

50g currants, raisins or sultanas – soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes

50g pine nuts

75g feta cheese, crumbled (optional – I have also made these with small cubes of halloumi)

Salt and pepper

For the sauce:

200g tinned tomatoes (see above)

1tbsp tomato puree

15ml olive oil

400-600ml water

1 tsp red wine vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Pinch of cayenne

Salt and pepper

1 jar of vine leaves in brine –  simmer these in boiling water for 15-30 minutes to cook them through so they aren’t tough.

To serve:

Extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Method

Make the filling:

In a blender blitz up the onion, garlic and chilli. Add the tomato pulp and blitz again.

Tip into a bowl with the rice, add the water, oil and spices and mix well. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.

The next day add the soaked raisins, pine nuts and feta (if using). Taste and adjust the seasoning – it needs to be punchy, and feel slightly over-seasoned.

To assemble:

Drain the vine leaves, take one and unfurl it gently on a board, with the veined side up. You may need to snip off the stem.

Place a spoon of filling in the middle and roll up like a spring roll, tucking in the edges. Place the filled rolls in an oven-proof baking dish in a single layer.

Whizz up the sauce in a blender and pour it over the dolmades. Cover the dish tightly with a tight-fitting lid or wrap in foil and cook in the oven at 170C for 90-120 minutes. After 90 minutes check to see if the rice is cooked (you will have to sacrifice a dolma!) and add a little extra water if the pan seems dry.

Leave to cool and serve cold, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.

© Linda Galloway 2020