Recently, my good friend Joey (owner of Maple Ave Restaurant in Virginia – if you haven’t eaten there yet and are near by, shut down your computer and go right now. Or at least bring this with you on a laptop and get someone to drive you there) posed the question on her Facebook page “What’s your favorite Fall vegetable?” I was completely in line with people’s responses of pumpkin and squash. I even gave a silent nod, though no one mentioned it, to artichokes (oft thought of as a Spring veggie, artichokes actually love the cold). But my answer, which came with not a moment’s hesitation, was swiss chard.
These noble leaves are the kings of greenery in my book – tender yet hearty, and full of earthy flavor that so much more refined than spinach. Members of the beet family, the stalks vary in shade from paperwhite to golden and garnet (just as you’d see of beets in the market). While I typically love my chard sautéed simply with olive oil and garlic, or luxuriously bathed in locatelli, cream and melted shallots, the leaves are so versatile, you can work them into pretty unique formats. This recipe not only showcases the greens, but also leverages their quick cooking time. Typical dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves, involve a lot of soaking and braising of the leaves to coax them into tenderness. Swiss chard needs no such thing – just a quick dip in some boiling hot water to make them pliant, and a short cooking time of a mere half an hour. Something to think about during the week when extra time is at a premium (“What? The Office is about to start? Let me hurry up and finish cooking already…”)
These dolmades are made with ground lamb and rice, but feel free to replace the lamb with beef for simplicity, or leave the meat out entirely and make a batch with just rice and herbs. I top the leaves with an Avoglomeno sauce that’s adapted from Greek queen of chefs, Cat Cora. It’s a luscious blend of eggs, lemon and dill and is equally devourable hot or cold, and just elevated the dolmades to a whole ‘nother level.
UPDATE: For a kickass vegetarian filling, check out this recipe over at My Darling Lemon Thyme. It’ll have you praising Spring for being one of the sexiest seasons around.
Let’s get crackin…
Swiss Chard Dolmades
1 bunch of swiss chard leaves (about 12-15 individual stalks)
1 lb. of ground lamb
1 c. of instant rice
1 tbs. of dried mint (can use fresh)
1 c. of onion, finely minced
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1/8 tsp. of black pepper
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 tsp of olive oil
1 can of chicken broth
4 large eggs
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 tsp. of pepper
1 tsp of dill
scant pinch of salt
Set a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. While that is coming up to temperature, make your filling.
In a large bowl with your hands (or gently with a stand mixer) mix the beef, onion, mint, rice, pepper, salt and olive oil. Make sure to combine all ingredients but not overmix. Set aside.
Prepare your swiss chard leaves by cutting out the fibrous middle stem while keeping the rest of the leaf intact. Set aside. Once your water is boiling, take the leaves, one at a time, and plunk them into the boiling water for 1-2 seconds and then remove them to a plate. Since we are not shocking them with a cold water bath after removing them from the hot water, the leaves will continue to cook a bit as they cool. This is perfect for getting them pliant. After you’ve cooked all of the leaves, set up a station where you can roll the dolmades. On a clean cutting board, place a leaf flatly on the surface and add a heaping tablespoon of meat filling. Fold the two sides of the leaf in over the filling and roll the whole thing up like the world’s smallest burrito. Place the stuffed chard in a 13x9x2 pan, seam side down. Repeat with remaining leaves until you run out of filling.
Pour a can of chicken broth over the leaves and cover with foil. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the leaves are tender and half of the stock has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and let sit.
In a mixing bowl with egg beaters or a stand mixer, beat the eggs, lemon juice, salt, pepper and dill until frothy and pale golden. Continuing to beat the mixture the whole time, carefully pour in the remaining chicken broth from the pan of dolmades. Make sure to do this slowly, or you’ll have lemon flavored scrambled eggs instead of a smooth sauce. Once it is all incorporated, pour the mixture into a sauce pan and turn the heat to medium. Continue to whisk the sauce until it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Pour sauce over your dolmades.
Serve them immediately as a hot dish, or let rest to room temperature or even cool as a variation. These little guys are good every which way.