Lettuce Wraps Dolma-Style
Dill? Really? In April when it's barely time to sow the seeds? Why not in July when this tender green herb is at it's fresh, flavorful, fragrant best? Dried dill is just a ghost of it's summer glory and fresh supermarket dill is expensive, pale, and wimpy. But I don't call the tune, I just dance to it.
Here in Floyd, unless you brine your own grape leaves, you can't find packaged leaves to make your own dolmas. I've discovered that greens like collards, romaine lettuce, and kohlrabi leaves make fine substitutes. I used romaine for this recipe.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While that's heating, separate the romaine into individual leaves and rinse them. Fill a large bowl or the sink with ice water and have a colander handy. When the water comes to a boil, place the leaves in it, a few at a time for 30 seconds, remove, and immediately place them in ice water to stop the cooking. This quick blanch will make the leaves more pliable for rolling. Drain the leaves thoroughly in the colander.
1/2 of a large onion, minced
1 cup of instant rice, white or brown
6 green onions, including the tender green stalks, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts (Have you seen the current price of pine nuts? $37/lb here! Ouch!)
1/3 cup dried currants (or you can substitute raisins or chopped dried apricots or other dried fruit)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Remove the rice from the heat and allow to cool enough to handle it. Next you're going to roll the rice in the lettuce leaves.
Take one of the leaves and lay it on the work surface with the bottom of the leaf laying away from you.
Trim off the thickest rib portion at the bottom of the leaf and slit the rib down the center but not all the way through so the leaf lies flattish. Place a generous tablespoon of the rice in the "cup" at the top of the leaf.
When you're done rolling the dolmas, you can clean out the rice pot and reuse that or, if you have a smaller amount of dolmas than will fill the pot halfway, use a smaller one. Line the bottom of the pot with some of your reject leaves (there are always reject leaves) and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. These leaves create a barrier between the dolmas and the bottom of the pot and prevent possible scorching.
Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half. Check the water level from time to time so the pan doesn't dry out but this shouldn't be a problem. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the dolmas to cool in the pan for about 2 hours.
Transfer the dolmas to a platter and garnish with lemon wedges. They can be served warm or at room temperature, or store chilled for later.