I have always wanted to make something using vine leaves. Must be my classical [sic] education. Years of Latin, classics and the like. Vine leaves were what the ancient Greeks used to eat and therefore, I am sure, the Romans.
But here in New Zealand it was always very hard to find the pickled vine-leaves as specified in the recipe books. I kept reading and eventually had the epiphany that the leaf of the ubiquitous silverbeet would make an admirable substitute and as they say, we were away laughing.
Silverbeet is dime-a-dozen or perhaps as cheap-as-chips in New Zealand. When one orders a thirty dollar mixed vegetable and fruit box from the local organic fruit and veg shop silverbeet is always abundant. There is only so much steamed silverbeet one can endure before searching for alternatives.
Silverbeet is similar, but also not, to spinach. Silverbeet is a much coarser proposition. Make of that what you will. Silverbeet is known in the Continent as Swiss Chard. It is often suggested that silverbeet be substituted for spinach, but this to my mind results in a much different dish. Spinach can be creamed but I dare anyone to try that with silverbeet - and enjoy it.
All that said there is one contest in which silverbeet beats spinach hands down and that is in terms of robust construction. Enter the dolmades.
A dolmade is a traditionally a vine leaf formed into a cigar shape with a savoury stuffing. I think that this is an exemplary vegetable dish, which of course could be perverted with meat as one chooses. I find that a spicy tomato sauce is a lovely accompaniment, albeit not essential.
This is my recipe for faux dolmades :
Soak Basmati rice in cold water for at least one hour. Fry chopped onion until golden. Mix the now drained soaked rice with the fried onion and what ever flavouring you might fancy. I suggest chopped tomato, mint, parsley, dill, caraway seed, or even cooked chopped meat, plus of course salt and pepper. Trim the white stalks from the silverbeet leaves and blanch briefly until soft. Refresh in cold water and lay out to receive the filling. Loosely fill each leaf with a tablespoon or so of filling and roll up into a cigar shape - remembering to allow room for the expansion of the rice as it cooks. Place each dolmade in a steamer seam down. Steam the dolmades for thirty minutes or so until a tested dolmade results in cooked rice. Serve with a tomato sauce and enjoy!
You know, I'll bet you could make an excellent Calda Verde (Portuguese Green Soup) with Silverbeet. We don't have it here in the states, but it sounds perfect.
Saute some onion in a bit of olive oil or butter, add some chopped garlic, red pepper flake, salt & pepper...when softened, add some white wine, chicken stock and when that comes to a boil, some thinnly sliced potato. Simmer until the potatoes begin to soften up, then mash them slightly to thicken the broth. Add a ton of greens (sliced) and continue to cook for about 10 more minutes.
Meanwhile, saute some spanish chorizo until it is nicely browned, then put that (grease and all) into the soup pot. Taste for seasoning (salt & pepper) then add some fresh lemon juice to taste.
This is one of my favorite winter soups.
Actually, I found out we DO have silverbeet in the states...we just call it swiss chard.
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