Mediterranean Holiday Series –5. Mikrolimano, Athens
About 15 kilometers from the centre of Athens, lies the Piraeus, or port and Mikrolimano, the second largest marina in the area. Here you find yachts and recreational boats, fishermen and a strip of seafood restaurants, loved by locals and visitors.
I was brought here by super food blogging trio Pandespani where we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of food and conversation. Eating Greek seafood with Greeks is an incomparable experience. And yes, I’d like more ouzo on ice, please.
The Piraeus is worth venturing out of Athens for, and if I had more time I’d have liked to spend the afternoon exploring and taking pictures – fishermen casting rods, families coming out for lunch, waiters in starched whites, the fleet of yachts and little fishing boats bobbing on the blue waters.
My recipe for dolmades, the Greek and Turkish rice stuffed vine leaf snack, is not traditional at all. In fact it breaks a few rules and after all the taste tests, I can confirm it tastes scrumptious. If you are a fan of the classics, you may need to stand back for this one.
Instead of rice, I use quinoa – the health carb, high in protein that has had the world in a frenzy over the last few years. Also, quinoa cooks far quicker than rice and has a lovely, slightly crunchy texture that I enjoy. Use it as a starch, in salads and stuffings – it is really versatile.
Sultanas are not as sweet as you may think in this recipe, they give a needed contrast and lose some of the sweetness during the cooking process. The herbs are essential to add freshness. In fact you can add a little more after the quinoa has cooked and cooled. Toasted pine nuts are a wonderful Mediterranean ingredient, they add contrast and a buttery nuttiness. Lemon zest adds sprite and white fish is the perfect ingredient for summer.
Usually dolmades are cooked in a pot, covered in a lemony water for 40 minutes or longer, until the water evaporates. Using cooked quinoa and a delicate fish would not work with that long cooking time, also it would strip the seasoned quinoa of all that lovely flavour. So, I experimented with the less agressive steaming method. The leaves do not turn to mush this way, and I prefer the slight bite to them. Al dente vine leaves! Do use the old fashioned method, if you prefer.
I used a bamboo steamer, suspended over a wok of simmering water, allowing the water to get to a slight roll and topping it up as needed. 25-30 minutes is long for a little fish strip, but the leaves need the time to soften; the fish still has a lovely texture as the steaming is gentle.
I used a double steamer and rotated the layers halfway through the cooking (saves time), you can do it this way or one at a time, as per my method below.
When the dolmades are ready, brush with olive oil and serve with tzatziki.
16 Mediterranean Delicatessen vines leaves, rinsed well
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
3 T Italian parsley, very finely chopped
3 T mint, very finely chopped
1/2 t dried oregano
2 T red onion, very finely diced
3 T golden sultanas
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t sweet chilli pepper flakes
salt, to taste
1 cup water
3 T pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 medium lemon, zested
1/2 medium lemon, juiced plus extra
300 g hake or other firm white fish, skinned, deboned and cut into 5 cm strips, 3/4 cm wide (16 strips)
*few spinach leaves to cover bottom of steamer to prevent sticking*
1. In a small pot on the stove, on medium heat add the quinoa, all the seasonings and herbs listed up until and including the water.
2. When the water comes to a boil (you may have to turn the heat up a little), turn the heat down and partially cover pot with a lid. Monitor and mix with a fork regularly.
3. When the water has been absorbed (around 15 minutes), fluff with a fork. Add pine nuts, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix gently. Season with more salt if needed. Leave to one side to cool.
4. Prepare the vine leaves by trimming stalks, if necessary. Place with apex of leave at top, away from you, on a board. Set out a few leaves on a wooden board.
5. Add a tablespoon of quinoa at base, forming a little ‘sausage’. Lay a strip of fish on top of this. Now, fold sides of the leaf in towards the sausage and roll upwards, forming a tight cigar.
6. Place a few spinach leaves at the bottom of the steamer. Lay the dolmades snugly, each touching, over the spinach leaves, with the seams or untidy edges underneath.
7. Place steamer on a metal trivet over a wok of simmering water (medium heat), not allowing the water to reach the level of the steamer. Allow to steam for 25 minutes. Top up water as needed. Repeat with remainder of dolmades.
Brush dolmades with extra virgin olive oil, serve with lemons and tzatziki. Serve warm or at room temperature. We tried them cold from the fridge too – perfect in the midday heat.
This post forms part of the series of recipes I am preparing for Mediterranean Delicacies. It is a Food and the Fabulous Endorsed project and I will be remunerated for it.