Short cuts to delicious dolmas

September 04, 1991|By Charlotte Balcomb Lane | Charlotte Balcomb Lane,Orlando Sentinel

Whether you call them dolmas or dolmades, stuffed grape leaves are a time-honored food to begin a Greek, Lebanese or Middle Eastern meal. The name comes from an Arabic word meaning "something stuffed" --usually brine-cured grape leaves wrapped around a filling of savory rice or ground lamb.

Unlike the traditional dolmas, these No-Cook Couscous Stuffed Grape Leaves don't require an hour to braise on the stove or in the oven. In fact, they don't require any cooking. Couscous, a granular semolina pasta that is popular in Moroccan cookery, only needs to be soaked briefly in hot water to become soft and plump like rice.

The couscous is seasoned with a sweet-savory mixture of raisins, cinnamon, lemon juice, tomatoes and cucumbers. This fresh, crisp filling takes about 10 minutes to make and is the perfect counterpoint to the briny flavor of the grape leaves.

The appetizers are made without any fats, oils or butter. As a result, they are extremely low in fat and calories.

The rolls can either be made at the last minute or several days in advance.

No-cook Couscous Stuffed Grape Leaves

1/2 cup couscous

2 1/2 tablespoons raisins or dried currants

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

fTC 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup boiling water

1 medium-sized ripe tomato, seeded and finely chopped (about 1 cup)

2 green onions, finely chopped

4 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely minced

1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

24 to 30 grape leaves, preserved in brine

Combine couscous, raisins or currants, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper and cinnamon. Pour boiling water over mixture and stir to moisten every grain. Allow to stand 10 minutes until water has been absorbed and grains are plump.

Add the chopped tomato, green onions, parsley and cucumber to the mixture. Toss to combine.

Rinse the grape leaves under cold running water. Lay them, shiny side down (vein side up) on a work area. Use a sharp knife to trim away the stems. Place about a tablespoon of the couscous mixture near the stem end of each grape leaf. Fold the left side over the filling and fold the right side over. Fold up the bottom of the leaf and roll into a tight cylinder. Continue until all filling and grape leaves are used.

Cover with a damp paper towel and chill until ready to serve. Serve with Feta Cheese Dip.

Note: Jars of grape leaves are available in the ethnic-foods section of most grocery stores. They're also available in Middle Eastern markets and gourmet shops. If using fresh vine leaves, wash them well and blanch them for 10 seconds in boiling water before preparing recipe. If rolling the grape leaves more than two hours before serving, brush or drizzle them with a little olive oil to keep them shiny.

Couscous is available in most supermarkets and health-food stores.

Feta Cheese Dip

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

3 ounces light or reduced-fat cream cheese

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Pinch of minced parsley

In a blender or food processor, combine feta and cream cheese. Process briefly, until almost smooth. Add buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce and sugar and process again. There should still be small chunks of feta cheese in dip. Chill.

In a blender or food processor, combine feta and cream cheese. Process briefly, until almost smooth. Add buttermilk and Worcestershire sauce and process again. There should still be small chunks of feta cheese in dip. Chill and garnish with parsley before serving.

Makes 1 1/2 cups or 12 servings

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