A long time ago, in a kitchen far far away...
It's hard for me to remember a time before the Olympic Food Challenge started. All of the researching and cooking new food with new ingredients is starting to feel normal, but that could just be culinary Stockholm Syndrome* setting in. But there was a time before the Olympics started. A happy carefree time, when I could cook what I wanted without having to source Fufu.
That said, there was always a part of me that was determined to discover new things. There had to be or the Challenge would never have been born. Back in June I had planned to make my own stuffed vine leaves as part of a Mezze that I was cooking for some guests. By the time I had managed to find some vine leaves in Leeds I didn't have enough time to fill and cook them, so I opened a jar of ready made Dolmas.
Having drawn Lebanon as my penultimate Olympic Food Challenge country I knew I had to finally have a go at Dolmas. I know that stuffed vine leaves are common throughout the Middle East but I first encountered them in a Lebanese restaurant, so to me they will always represent Lebanon.
Rather than trusting the internet I turned to my bookshelf as I knew there was a Stuffed Vine Leaves recipe in Sarah Maxwell's Meze Cooking. On paper it didn't take too long, a couple of hours, but that didn't take into consideration the hour it took me to separate and rinse the packet of brined vine leaves. This put us back a while and we had already been delayed by having a little too much fun at the Huddersfield Food and Drink Festival.
Once we finally sat down to eat the Dolmas they were just as tasty as any that I have eaten from delis or restaurants. To me the mixture was a little light on rice and heavy on pine nuts and raisins but I can always change the quantities next time we cook them. Who am I kidding? Unless I was cooking a feast and feeling time rich and wallet poor, I will be going back to shop-bought Dolmas. As nice as the were, they can be added to the list of things which life is too short to do; making puff pastry from scratch, boning an ox tail etc.
*Stockpot Syndrome perhaps.