I have a Greek first name. Because of this, occasionally someone I’ve just met will ask me if I’m Greek. It always catches me off-guard, and I never have a witty response or a graceful way out of the conversation. So I always answer truthfully, “No. My parents just liked the name.”
But if we’re measuring solely in terms of dolma consumption, I’m probably at least 19 percent Greek. I love them truly, deeply, almost as much as I love any food. I’ll happily eat any kind, with meat or without, but my favorites are the classic rice-and-herb filled ones, just small enough to eat in a single bite. So when my coworker—who, incidentally, is half-Greek—mentioned that she’d made dolmas at home, and they’d turned out spectacularly well, you can bet I got the recipe out of her as fast as I could.
It turns out that homemade dolmas are a whole new level of delightful. They’re intensely flavored, slicked with olive oil and lemon juice, packed plump with rice and fresh herbs and tomato. This is definitely a labor-of-love, enlist-your-friends kind of project: rolling tiny dollops of filling into grape leaves is the kind of repetitive task that’s best done in a team. Then, once rolled, the dolmas are baked in a dish lined with even more grape leaves, bathed in lemony oily water that turns into a featherweight brine. The leaves turn bruise-black in places, and swell satisfyingly as the rice soaks up the herby juices.
These absolutely must be eaten at room temperature. Whenever I get impatient and start eating them warm, they fall apart. As they cool, the flavors swing into balance, and the rice firms up enough to hold its shape. They’re also, surprisingly, one of those foods that improves with a night or two in the fridge, as the herbs and rice have even more mingling time.