Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmas) with Lamb

I’ve done the lamb variant twice now, and the vegan/vegetarian variant once.  I want to work with the vegan Dolmas a time or two more before I post that recipe; I found my venture to be a bit too “soggy”.  There are a lot of great-sounding vegan stuffed grape leaf recipes out there, but most seem to contain pine nuts… which I cannot digest properly any more.  Much as I loved pine nuts once upon a time!!  But at the moment, the lamb variant seems to be ready for Prime Time, as it were.

Greek, Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, rice, lamb, recipe

Dolmas, stuffed and rolled. Keep seam side down when cooking and serving.

Lamb:  ground lamb, pastured and 100% free-range-grazed from Sepe’s Farm, Newtown, CT.  I try my best to avoid having mega numbers of multiple animals ground up in my ground meats!  Something simply feels skeevy about that!

The recipe I used can be found at The Spruce.   I made half a recipe each time, and some other minor modifications, and for the first occurrence (a Greek-themed pot luck) I made a yogurt tzatziki, adding mint to my usual recipe.

Greek, Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, rice, lamb, recipe

Cooked and served!

Prep Time: 1.5 hours
Dolmas Cook Time:  50-60 minutes
Rest Time:  At least cool to finger-food temperature.
Serves:  a bunch of appetizers!
Leftovers?:  Yes, refrigerate up to five days, serve cold or re-heat.  Can be frozen.

Greek Dolmas with Lamb and Rice

  • water for blanching grape leaves.
  • Juice of two lemons, divided
  • About one half of a 16-ounce jar fresh grape leaves in brine.
  • 1 cup uncooked white basmati rice
  • 1 medium-large onions, chopped finely.
  • 2.5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound ground lamb (you can substitute beef)
  • about 8 stalks of fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 handful fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 handful fresh curly parsley, chopped.
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt (regular fine, too)
  • 2 cups of water

Rinse leaves to remove excess salt; then boil a pot of water, add grape leaves and turn heat off.  Let soak for 4-5 minutes, then drain.  Set aside.

In a half tablespoon of oil, saute onions until translucent, but not brown.

Let rice soak in hot tap water for at least ten minutes, then drain.

In a bowl, mix together onions, rice, the rest of the olive oil, 1 lemon’s juice, and the spices and salt.

Separate the grape leaves, cut off the stem with a paring knife or scissors, and add a generous teaspoon or so of mixture to the base part of the leaf – the darker green shinier surface should be on the outside of the wrap.  Fold the leaf up, tuck in the two side lobes, then continue rolling, and set the leaf with the final roll on the bottom, so the thing doesn’t unravel while cooking.

I found this video to be a wonderful teaching aid:  Rolling Grape Leaves.  I just discovered, when hunting this video back down so I could refer to it here, there are now devices one can buy that will do this onerous (?) task for you.  I don’t think they will save much time, however – they’re not automated! At any rate, pictures below!

Put a plate in the bottom of the pot you will be cooking the grape leaves in.  Put in a plate up side down – theoretically it should be close-fitting to the bottom of the pot, but I don’t seem to own such plates.  I don’t think it matters.

Add some unused, unstuffed grape leaves (ie, some of those that rip when you are separating them from each other, or that ripped when you tugged them out of their tightly-packed jar)!   This keeps the bottom dolmas from burning.  Add the dolmas, seam sides down.  One or two or three layers are okay.  Place more of the excess leaves over the top.  Add the water to cover (about two cups, generally speaking, but go by the size of your pot and the amount of dolmas.  Add the rest of the lemon juice, and more if you are so inclined.  Put a plate on top of the dolmas, to keep them from floating.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered.  50 minutes seems about right, but if you have three layers of dolmas, you may wish to keep them simmering five or so minutes more.

Use tongs to remove.  Serve warm, or serve after refrigeration, chilled (you can nuke them if you desire them warm later).

Greek, Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, rice, lamb, recipe

Add a generous dollop of stuffing.

Greek, Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, rice, lamb, recipe

Begin to roll from bottom up.

Greek, Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, rice, lamb, recipe

Fold in side lobes of leaf.

Greek, Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, rice, lamb, recipe

Continue rolling entire leaf, tucking in things where necessary.

Continuing the food fest at Fiesta Friday, hosted this week by Jhuls and Su.






Posted in Appetizers, Cooking, Meats | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Of Olive and Apple Trees!

Another for the annals of Future Food!  

Arrived this past weekend:

One Arbequina olive tree in a gallon container.  (Looks on the small side of a gallon, but hey…)

Four bare root apple trees, packed as a bundle.  One dogwood tree.  Seriously, I’d forgotten I’d ordered the dogwood!  (Orders went in three months ago… they ship when planting is best for one’s zone.)

Source, Raintree Nursery, Oregon.

The Arbequina Olive:

Gardening, olive trees, container plantings

Close up of the poppy-sized olives.

This one is simply PACKED with what I presume are baby olives, little things about the size of poppy seeds at this point.  I did some research on this particular olive, and olives in general.

Olives can be invasive, but this variety is cold hardy to zone 8, and I’ll be in zone 5, so no worries.  Like the citruses, it will be overwintered indoors or in the future greenhouse.

Olive fruit is very bitter directly off the vine, so that’s why olives are always sold brined. (Honestly, I’d never thought about this…  Makes sense, though!)   Mediterranean olive trees are extremely long-lived – if I take good care of this one, perhaps I’ll have a great great great great nephew or niece who will want it… although I’m not planning on any necessary inheritance this way!

The Arbequina olive is named for the region in Spain it has been propagated from, at least from the times “they” started naming things.  (I keep wanting to call it the Aquafina olive…)  This one is ripe when it has turned brown, and this variety is typically used in the making of olive oil, although it can be eaten as a fruit, too.  Um, brined…

Olive tree, Gardening, container olives

Meh olive tree photo from a distance. The poor thing has to fill out some!

If I wish to make my own olive oil, mechanical cold pressing can yield “extra virgin olive oil”.  While this may well be within the scope of my abilities here, I doubt I’d get very much from one plant, despite the number of baby olives on this one!

A Mini-Dwarf Apple Orchard:  

Apples by and large tend to need to be pollinated by other apple flower pollen from different varieties/cultivars.  There are some exceptions, but this is generally true.  Why one variety can’t pollinate another tree of its same variety… I dunno, but there you have it!

This batch from Raintree Nursery is supposed to be willing to pollinate each other with fervor (they flower at the same time).  All are miniature dwarfs, grafted onto root stock that promotes a smaller growth pattern.  Making it easier to pick than, say, waiting for deadfall.

They’re shipped out from cold storage, and there’s no dirt on their roots.  Indeed, they got wrapped in wads of recycled shredded newspaper, wetted down for the journey.  They arrived at my house while I was away, either Friday or Saturday, and I got home Sunday.  Then, they had to wait until yesterday (Tuesday the 16th of May) to get to my future home to be planted.  I was able to keep them relatively cool.

And so, we dug the holes into moist soil (lotsa rain recently), inserted plants, topped them with garden soil, and on the 17th, watered them copiously, and then I circled them with rocks, and added cedar chips for mulch.  I put in stakes using a Velcro product intended for tomatoes, to keep them attached to these stakes.  Note: chosen boundary rocks are subject to replacement over time for aesthetic reasons.

Although there’s not much growing around where these guys were planted, the soil is actually rich.  There’s been house construction and other events of soil moving!  The close row of three is probably 30 feet from the house proper.  Photo from my future bedroom.

Gardening, apple trees, mini-dwarf apple trees, homesteading

Four incipient apple trees!  It got quite unexpectedly hot today.  I bet you can guess the last tree to get cedar mulch, just from the mulch color!

Reading the above as if it were a book:  Of course, anybody’s guess which is what!!

  • The header (photo view faces south):  Cherry Cox Apple M2
  • From left to right:  Left:  Striped Gravenstein
  • Middle:  Honeycrisp M2
  • Right:  William’s Pride

The Australian Finger Lime, blooms opening!:

Check the earlier post about this tree, but about a week ago, the blossoms started to open:

Gardening, container plants, Australian finger lime

Blossoms open, Australian Finger Lime. Note pink bud center right.


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GF Flourless Chocolate Cake

Probably my personal mottos, but:

“Life is short.  Eat  fish and veggies first.”  – Anon?  

“How can you have your meat if you don’t eat your pudding?” – Pink Floyd?  

I had fourteen of us over at my new, almost finished, home this past Saturday night, and puzzled quite a bit over what to do for dessert.  Dessert not being something I eat with any frequency, personally, and not because of some idea I’m “depriving” myself for health – I’ve simply entrained myself not to care for sweets to the degree that most people enjoy them, but I seem to have had a start early in life in this direction.  (I’m told my parents would toss out the leftover Easter candy for Halloween, and the leftover Halloween candy for Easter – but back then I did enjoy candy corn and milk chocolate, even if I never wanted hard candies, gummy candies, jelly beans, marshmallows or the like.)

Anyhow, I settled on making a flourless gluten-free chocolate “cake” for dessert.

recipe gluten-free flourless chocolate cake

Simple and straightforward.

At any rate, this recipe may be found as: Healthier Flourless Chocolate Cake, at

Changes I made:  I cooked and served this in a glass quiche pie pan, instead of cooking and decanting from a spring-form cake pan (I don’t own one of those, and don’t wish to).  I had to punt when I couldn’t find the honey (did I say I am in the process of moving?) and use coconut palm sugar, which is still better than refined cane sugar.

Prep Time:  15 minutes.
Cook Time:  20-25 minutes.
Rest Time:  Let it cool, then chill in fridge (although can be served at room temp)
Serves:  16.
Leftovers:  Up to a week in fridge.

GF Flourless Chocolate Cake

  • 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (typically one bar)
  • 1/2 cup butter from grass fed cows; 1 stick in the US.  (Or, coconut oil.) 
  • 3 whole eggs, shelled.
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder (mine was unsweetened, too, online from Savory Spice Shop).
  • 0.94 cups sugar (coconut palm sugar or brown sugar) + 0.2 cups water (OR if you have the honey, 3/4 cup honey!  Yes, I had to find a conversion table…)  

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in an oven-safe skillet, in the oven, for 4-5 minutes, don’t let it melt absolutely completely.  Pull it out and mix by hand with a spatula.  Pour into a mixing bowl and scrape as much out of the skillet into the bowl as possible.  (Or, you could technically add everything else to the skillet!)

Beat the eggs, add to the chocolate / butter.

Add the cocoa powder and sugar, and mix by hand.  A whisk is best, but again, not sure where mine went!   The slotted spoon worked dandy, if a little slower!

Oil and wipe down a quiche pan with a little grape seed oil.

Add the batter, spreading evenly across the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the center feels done (a little firm – it will firm up entirely as it cools).

I made this two days in advance, and stored, covered, in the fridge.

Slice to serve.  It seemed popular!  While it is relatively low in sugars, it is still VERY rich, so a little will go a long way!

P.S. – this is the very very first item I’ve baked in the oven portion
of my range in my new home!!!

Serving this up at Fiesta Friday, hosted this week by Jhuls and Su.



Posted in Cooking, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Container Citrus Trees!

A post about Future Food!

I’m far too far north here in Connecticut, and further yet in Massachusetts, to be able to plant citrus trees in the ground.  But many of them will take well enough to life in containers.   They can sit out much of the year, and be placed in the basement (or better yet, the future greenhouse) during the dodgy season.

Citrus trees, container fruit, finger lime

Finger Lime, with flowers

I’ve ordered four citrus trees to date.  If I prune properly, these should be manageable.

The most unusual one is shown above – the Australian finger lime.  Tiny pinkish blooms, thorns (alas!), and fruit that will be elongated like fingers.  Inside the peel, the fruit is supposedly little tart balls, probably about the size more or less of salmon roe.  Little bursts of flavor!  (I can see getting some ikura – the salmon roe – and interspersing some of these finger lime balls within, for both the color and taste effect!)  Since this one is flowering, I do expect some fruit this season.  This bush has more flowers on it than since it arrived here, about ten days ago.

citrus trees, gardening, container plantings, bearss lime

Bearss Lime

This is the standard lime tree that bears the same limes you find in most groceries. It is named Bearss lime, dunno why the double-S.  It is seedless.

Did you know that if you don’t pick the limes when they are green, they will turn yellow, just like lemons?  I didn’t!

citrus trees, gardening, thai lime, kaffir lime, container planting

Thai Lime

Thai/Kaffir lime trees will fruit, but in Thai cooking, it’s the leaves that count.  I love me some Thai cooking, and so…  I will have to see if regular Bearss leaves have any culinary use, or indeed if anyone ever eats them or not.

citrus trees, gardening, blood orange, container planting

Blood Orange

Blood oranges are a thing only rarely seen in my supermarkets. Very rarely.  But, they’re SO tasty!

The specimen above has a few insect nibbles in its leaves… I looked to make sure no insects were riding along, and all seems fine.

I’ve been putting these plants outdoors, but bringing them into my garage if the predicted temps look dodgy.    You need to keep them warm enough – I am setting them out if the temperatures are above 50 F.  (In-ground, and established, they can tolerate lower temps, but I’m playing it safe.)

They love sun!

They also need plenty of water and good drainage.  I planted them with a combo of peat-moss soil, and citrus soil (Lowes), with river rock pebbles at the bottom of their pots – to facilitate drainage.

If these thrive, I’ll be buying a couple other citrus cultivars next year.


Posted in Gardening, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Dining Out: Aroma Bar and Grill, Great Barrington, MA

Aroma Bar and Grill, Indian Restaurant
485 Main Street 
(Route 7), Great Barrington, MA

On my way home from meeting a contractor in Pittsfield, I stopped to take a quick and inexpensive lunch at the Aroma Bar and Grill.  I’d eaten here once before years ago (if I were rating things then, it would have gotten a 4.5 star review…), and hoped it was still in existence.

It is.  And it is still quite good.

The rasam soup (a lentil based vegetarian offering from the south of India) was just as wonderful as I remembered it to be.  A great combination of spices.

Aroma Bar and Grill, restaurant, Great Barrington, rasam soup, lentil, vegetarian

Yes, that’s cilantro floating on top! I adore this soup! Nope, not photogenic, especially on a phone…

Aroma’s lunch specials were a main chosen from the vegetarian, chicken,  or lamb sections of the dinner menu (a smaller amount, of course), vegetable pakora, rice, raita, and your choice of naan, poori, or roti.  I chose lamb dilruba and garlic naan.  (My absolute favorite Indian main is lamb saag – I have a thing for the seasonings of Indian spinach dishes, but I decided to try a preparation I’d not ever eaten before.)

The vegetable pakora was awesome.  I could make a meal off of that (and the soup).  My portion included cauliflower and broccoli,  lightly frittered and delicately seasoned.

Lamb dilruba is described as lamb served in a mild brown sauce with mushrooms.  Actually, the waitress gave me a choice of mild, medium or hot in spiciness.  I chose medium heat.  This was very good, and the lamb was quite tender and tasty.  However, the sauce, which owed a lot to tomato, was not outstanding – very good, but simply not boat-rocking.

The raita was good, lightly seasoned and refreshing.  The rice, for some reason, was tepid in temperature.   I’m thinking they incompletely re-heated leftover rice from the night before?  (This was just after noon, which is why I am wondering.)  So, the rice was disappointing.

Aroma Bar and Grill, restaurant, Great Barrington, lamb

Notice that garlic naan attempting to warm up the rice beneath? I do wish there’d been more pakora (item at 3 o’clock) but I did leave this restaurant happily satiated.

Service was prompt and courteous.  My meal was under $20, and I was satiated.

The restaurant appears to be divided into two sides, the other side being the bar.  I stuck with ice water…

They serve a Sunday brunch buffet.

Rating:  3.7 out of 5, mostly docked for the tepid rice.  (Otherwise at least a 4, but hey, the tepid rice almost certainly came from the previous night… it’s a major part of the cuisine…)  I WILL be back.  That soup!  That pakora!

I revisited this place last week, August 29th, for lunch on my way up to Williamstown, MA, where I planned to spend two or three days just on an impromptu getaway.

I’m glad I went back!  My hope was to eat more veggie pakoras, so I could figure out how better to make them right in my own kitchen (the batter wasn’t clinging enough).

I’d planned to get just the rasam soup again, and a whole batch of pakoras, but I’d forgotten the great lunch deals they have there… pick a main from a wide variety, AND get some bread, rice, pakoras, raita… for real inexpensive!  So… I ordered one of my favorite mains, the saag (or palak) paneer, and got all those sides for the same price.  I ordered the onion naan rather than the basic – this came with an extra charge of a dollar, but man, was it so well-worth it!

Rasam, dining out, Aroma Bar and Grill, Great Barrington, vegan

Aroma Bar and Grill: Rasam Soup! Never fails to satisfy!

The rice was fresh and hot this time, and I just oozed into my meal, loving every second of it!  This date:  rating of 4.5 !!!

Aroma Bar and Grill, Dining out, Vegetarian, Saag paneer, onion naan, pakoras, raita, Great Barrington MA

Awesome lunch this time! Everything more than worth the price of admission!






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Dining Out: El Comalito, Amherst, MA

El Comalito (Mexican & Salvadorian), 460 West Street, Amherst MA

The next two or three posts I’m making are dining out experiences.  I’m pretty busy packing and sorting my home in preparation for a move to be very kitchen-creative.  This dining out excursion happened because I’d just finished visiting a wood burning furnace outlet, and was on my way to visiting my future home to see how things were doing there, and to drop off a load of books and other stuff.

El Comalito, Restaurant, Amherst, dining out, Mexican food

Taco spread.

Photos by phone – real cameras are way too intrusive at restaurants.

And I don’t stop for Mickey Dee’s… or Bugger King.   Panera’s, yes, but that was too far out of my way.  Google being my friend, I found this place!

I ordered the avocado salad with balsamic vinaigrette, which they served on the side.  This would have been a meal in itself!  I took half of it home (minus the avocados, which just won’t keep – I ate all of them then and there).  The tomatoes of course are hot-house, which is just as well, since I should limit nightshade consumption.

El Comalito, Restaurant, Amherst, dining out, Mexican food

Lots of avocados!

For the main:  three gluten-free Puerco/Pulled Pork soft tacos.  This was a LARGE platter, and came with a green salsa.   I also got a small bit of pico de gallo.  Yep, nightshades, but these were tasty.  I included the refried beans and the rice – you had to get the rice WITH the beans or the beans alone would have, for some inexplicable reason, cost more.

These were very good, the pork tender yet a bit crispy in the right way; and the rice was done well, not soggy.   The green salsa was outstanding.

If I head back, I want to try the Salvadorean pupusas – I’ve never had them.  Unfortunately, they require 20 minutes of additional wait time, and I was On the Road, and had destinations to meet.

Service was a tad slow, but not uncomfortably so.  There are plenty of gluten-free and a few vegetarian options.

El Comalito, Restaurant, Amherst, dining out, Mexican food

Zoom in on them tacos!

Rating:  3.75 out of 5 stars.

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April 1st: Mashed Sweet Green Peas with Shiitake

This is actually created in memory of the time when I was a child.  I looked at the platter of loathed green peas, and, using the logic of the Laws of Similarity, decided that mashing my peas might improve the gustatory experience, in the same way that mashed potatoes were far superior to the boiled or baked varieties.   BUT:

green peas, recipe, shiitake, mashed peas, vegetarian

Green peas, shiitake, onion. Yes, they do work mashed, or at the very least:  smashed.


“But I wanna make it taste better!”


The parents won, and I didn’t attempt mashing my peas again until I was off at college.

Note:  They DID taste better mashed!

green peas, recipe, shiitake, mashed peas, vegetarian

From the freezer section…

Later on, I discovered the very best peas:  fresh, whole, from one’s own garden!!!  No mashing necessary nor desired.   A lot of them didn’t even get into the house.

Since my garden (at my future home) still has snow on it, instead of anything edible, and since today is April Fools’ Day, I figured I’d see if I could create a mashed pea dish, and improve on simply mashing them.  Granted, it occurred to me much later in life, this is what Split Pea Soup does so well… but here goes today’s experiment in mashing frozen (NOT canned!) peas for a tasty pleasure.

green peas, recipe, shiitake, mashed peas, vegetarian

Mise in Place

Prep Time:  10 minutes.
Cook Time: 5 minutes for the peas in water, 20 minutes for everything else.
Rest Time:  Not required.
Serves:  Two.
Re-heats nicely in microwave.  Or, if covered, in the oven.

Mashed Sweet Peas with Shiitake

  • 1 10-ounce pack of frozen sweet green peas.  
  • 1 tablespoon (you might need more) of either butter, ghee, avocado oil, olive oil, or grapeseed oil)
  • 1/4 red onion, diced.  (more is fine, too.  It’s what I had.)
  • 3-4 ounces shiitake mushrooms.  De-stem and slice thin.  
  • 2 green onions/scallions, chopped.
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or so) salt

Prepare the peas according to the directions on the package (mine said to put in pot, just cover with water, bring to boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover, and simmer 5-7 minutes.  I stopped at about 5 minutes since they’d be cooked further.

Drain peas and mash.  I used a potato masher, you can also use a blender if you want them smoother.  I was happy with chunky.  (I like my mashed potatoes with some chunk, too…)

In a skillet large enough for everything, put your cooking oil/fat.  (I used butter, organic pastured Kate’s of Maine.  If you don’t do dairy, pick a healthy cooking oil.)  Let melt and get hot at medium heat.

Add onions, stir.  Allow to get translucent.  A little browning is fine, too.  About 8-10 minutes.

Add the mushrooms, stir. Cook another 5-8 minutes, until the mushrooms are done.  You may need more cooking oil/fat here, let your mushrooms be your guide.

Add the mashed peas and the scallions.  Add the seasonings, and stir further, another five minutes.  Everything should be hot all the way through.

Serve!  (PS, one option that I did for the second serving… sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top!)

As for serving options… the above serving WAS my lunch, nothing else.  For dinner, though, I’d probably prefer this as a side.  Sometimes it’s worth learning from playing with your food!

This recipe has decided to go have fun over at Fiesta Friday, and it is partying down with co-host Monika, as well.






Posted in April Fool, Cooking, Mushrooms, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments