Stuffed vegetables for Sukkot, and year-round

By Margi Lenga Kahn

I have a confession. It begins with the fact that I absolutely love dolmades.

There is nothing quite as satisfying as stuffed grape leaves, the kind that are lemony tart with a rich broth flavor, stuffed with tender rice that has been seasoned with plenty of fresh dill, onions, pine nuts and that just-sweet-enough taste of currants.

My confession?

During the time I have been writing this column, I have been trying to come up with a Jewish link to my passion for dolmades, with a way to connect my love of tradition with my love of dolmades. Alas, I have finally found my link.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

Sukkot, which begins just five days after Yom Kippur and lasts a week, commemorates the 40 years the Jews wandered through the desert and celebrates the final harvest bounty of the season.

I remember as a child hanging fruits and vegetables from the branches that served as the roof of our backyard sukkah. And it came as no surprise that a harvest festival meal would include freshly harvested fruits and vegetables.

But only recently did I learn that stuffed vegetables and fruits are a traditional part of the holiday meal. Sukkot is thus the perfect time to prepare dolmas, which in Arabic literally means “something stuffed.”

While most of us associate dolmas with the Greek term dolmades, which usually refers to stuffed grape leaves (or, believe it or not, cabbage leaves), dolmas includes a wide variety of stuffed vegetables. Peppers, tomatoes, squash, and eggplant are all perfect to stuff because they hold their shapes during the cooking process.

They can be left whole or halved and should be stemmed and seeded.

Before filling, the vegetables should be baked in an oiled baking dish for 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees, or until slightly softened.

To prepare cabbage leaves for stuffing, separate them from the head and blanch them in boiling water until they become pliable enough to roll. As for those heavenly stuffed grape leaves, more on them later.

You can then stuff your vegetables with a variety of cooked and seasoned grains (including rice, cracked wheat, quinoa, couscous) plus meat, cheese, vegetables, or a combination.

Once stuffed, place the vegetables in a baking dish and add at least 1/2 cup liquid, which can be water, tomato sauce, or broth. Then bake until the vegetables are tender and the filling heated through. Cabbage rolls can also be cooked in a deep, covered pot over low heat on top of the stove.

Now for my dolmades. First, though, a warning: stuffing grape leaves is time consuming. That’s why before I start the process, I change into comfortable shoes, put on my favorite music, and pour myself a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

I have heard that fresh grape leaves, which can be picked from the vine in late spring and summer, have the best flavor. That being said, unless you have access to a vineyard in your backyard, you will have to make do with the leaves that are sold in jars at your local supermarket in the ethnic food aisle.

The jarred grape leaves are brined, rolled and packed very tightly.

It takes a bit of patience and gentle nudging to remove them. The easiest way to do this is to turn the jar upside down over your sink with one hand while grasping and easing the leaves out with the other. You do not need to save the liquid.

If you should happen to tear a few leaves along the way, don’t fret. These can be used to line the bottom of the pot in which the stuffed grape leaves will cook.

Furthermore, you can feast on those lemony leaves without making a dent in your dolmades supply.

I’ve included my recipe for stuffed grape leaves. If you’re short on time but would still like to serve something stuffed for Sukkot, check out my list of “quick stuffed” ideas below. They could make for an exciting forschpice or even a Sukkot tapas feast.

Wishing you a joyous Sukkot.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of one. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].

Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves

  • 1- 8 oz. jar (drained weight) drained, grape leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 cup short grain white rice
  • 1/4 c. chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 6 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • Lemon wedges and fresh dill sprigs for garnish

Carefully remove leaves from jar and place in a large colander. Gently separate leaves and pour 2-3 cups of boiling water over leaves. Drain. Set aside six small or torn leaves. Cut stems off of remaining leaves. Cover leaves with a damp towel and reserve.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet with a lid. Add onions and shallots and stir until softened. Add rice, parsley, dill, salt, pine nuts, and currants. Stir until combined. Add 1 cup of water, stir, cover, and simmer over low heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove pan from heat, uncover, and allow mixture to cool.

Line the bottom of a large soup pot with reserved leaves. Place one leaf onto work area, shiny side down, and spoon 1 tsp. of filling one inch in from stem end of leaf. Fold stem end of leaf over filling, fold sides of leaf in over filling, and roll up the leaf loosely, (rice mixture will continue to cook and expand to fill the additional space). Layer filled leaves in prepared pot.

Sprinkle lemon juice and 1/4 cup remaining olive oil evenly over filled rolls. Add 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth and 1 cup water to pan. Place a heat-safe plate directly on top of layered rolls. Bring liquid to a boil. Cover pot, turn heat down low, and simmer dolmades for 35 minutes. Remove lid and let mixture cool in pan for 15 minutes.

Place cooled rolls on platter and serve at room temperature or cover and refrigerate to serve cold. Garnish with lemon wedges and dill sprigs before serving.

Grape leaves can remain refrigerated, covered, for 4-5 days.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Quick Stuffed Vegetables

Use any of the savory fillings below to stuff:

* Cucumbers cut into slices with part of the center hollowed out

* Cherry tomatoes hollowed out, lightly salted, and allowed to drain upside down on paper towels for 15 minutes

* Canned artichoke bottoms drained and patted dry with paper towels

* Belgian Endive separated, rinsed, and patted dry with paper towels

Use the Mascarpone-Almond Filling to top:

* Fresh dates or figs, halved

* Fresh pears, halved and cored

Assorted fillings for stuffed vegetables:

Black Bean Filling:

Place the following ingredients into the bowl of a food processor:

1 16-oz. can black beans, drained

2 large garlic cloves, pressed

3 tbsp. chopped onion

2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 tsp. fresh limejuice

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1/4 tsp. thyme

1 tbsp. water

Process until smooth, adding additional water if filling is too thick. Garnish with finely chopped fresh cilantro.

Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Filling:

Combine the following ingredients in the bowl of a food processor:

1 7-oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

1 6-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup drained capers

4 chopped garlic cloves

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

Pulse until ingredients are combined, but not pureed. Garnish with finely chopped Italian parsley.

Hummus Filling:

Combine the following ingredients in the bowl of a food processor:

1 -15 1/2 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup sesame seed paste, also called tahini

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

Process until ingredients are thoroughly combined. Garnish with finely chopped cilantro.

Mascarpone-Almond Filling:

Combine in a small bowl:

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

1/2 tsp. freshly ground white pepper

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. slivered almonds, toasted and cooled

Garnish with toasted almonds, finely chopped.

All fillings can also be served as dips with fresh vegetables, toasted Italian bread slices, pita bread or pita chips.