Dolmas, dolmades or dolmathes are found throughout Greece, Turkey and the Middle East (dolma is from the Turkish word for ‘stuffed’). I spent a few weeks sailing around the Greek islands on a trip I’ll never forget: that vast expanse of sea, beautifully desolate islands, the cruise ship that managed to drag up our anchor in Mykonos and nearly take us out with it, or the sound of the waves echoing off our anchorage in Santorini. Coming into a port was always a joy, seeing the local fishing boats and their catches, although I was horrified at how small they were and wondered if they could make a living out it. Fish was expensive and sparse (although I did make sure I got my fair share of sardines and octopus).
But the two things I became obsessed with were the smaller side dishes of gigantes plaki – large white beans in a thick tomato sauce – and dolmades wrapped in grape leaves. Add some ouzo or a rough retsina and I was hooked. I was (and still am) happy to buy dolmades tinned, but there is nothing quite like making them yourself.
It’s still a little early in my garden for fresh grape leaves of a reasonable size (and I’m never organised enough to blanch and freeze them), so I tend to use silverbeet leaves for an easy wrapper. Traditionally served warm with an avgolemono sauce of egg yolks, broth and lemon, I prefer the ease of the yoghurt and tahini sauce served here.