I like the summer days that begin and end with a sweater. Days when I wake to air blowing in through the open window that makes me shiver and pull the covers round me a little tighter. That end with cool breezes and damp night air that settle around you like a fog. When the crumpled summer dress on the floor beside the bed is not quite warm enough to suffice.
Days that begin with pink clouds stretched over the horizon, mist rising up from the river, fog in the valley, dew on the grass. When I stand in the kitchen, heating water for tea. Waiting for the sun to peak over the mountains. Waiting for the light to stream in through the windows and pool onto the wooden floorboards, making them feel warm under my feet as I hold my steaming cup in my hands.
And by the time the tea-pot is drained, breakfast dishes rinsed and set to dry in the rack – the sun has already burned off much of the fog in the valley and the mist from the river has dissolved like a ghost. The kitchen is full of summer light. When I go up to the garden, only the shadows retain the morning’s chill and the traces of dew and the sun falls upon me with a warm, penetrating light. The heat moves in, slowly and gently, invading the damp soil, dissolving the cool shadowy places, absorbing into the slate stepping-stones.
It is just such a summer day as I venture into the garden with my basket to gather ingredients for making dolmas. I cut leaves of chard – yellow, pink, red and white – and place them in my basket. Pluck the tender stems of young parsley plants, snip off a bit of dill. Some parts of the garden are still damp and shadowy enough to make me shiver, but I can feel the heat moving in. The day will be a warm one.
Back in the kitchen, I set pots of rice to boil, chop onions and garlic, mince up herbs, zest lemons. As pots are stirred, tender leaves blanched – the sweater is removed. Soon the socks come off too, and then the leggings. I move through the kitchen barefoot, in my soft cotton dress, the breeze coming through the window a most delicious thing. I roll up the last of the dolmas mopping my brow. The heat has taken hold now.
But in the evening, when we pull the dolmas out of the fridge and take them up to the picnic table in the backyard, the shadows have moved in again. The air feels damp and cool on my skin, prickling me with goosebumps. The sweater is pulled back on. And dinner, begun in the chill of morning, is savored in the delicious coolness of evening. A day begun and ended in a sweater.
I have subbed in bright and colorful rainbow chard leaves for the more traditional grape leaves as they are more easily come by in my area.
- 1 large bunch rainbow chard
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts (chopped into small pieces), lightly toasted
- 1/3 cup raisins
- the zest and juice of 1 lemon
- a handful each of dill, parsley and mint, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the rice in a pot with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer, tightly covered, until most of the water has absorbed and the rice is tender, about 35 minutes.
- Remove the stems from the chard leaves by slicing them off at the base of the leaf. For larger leaves with tougher stems, you can remove the stem completely by sliding your hand from the base of the stem up towards the tip of the leaf, pulling the leaf away as you do this. Blanch the leaves in lightly salted boiling water for just 1-2 minutes for small leaves, or 3-4 minutes for larger leaves. Immediately rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process and retain the vibrant green color.
- In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and then add the onion and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until the onion begins to turn translucent and then add the garlic, cooking for 30 seconds more.
- Tip the onion and garlic into a large bowl along with the rice, nuts, raisins, lemon zest and juice, herbs and spices. Season generously with salt and pepper and stir till well combined.
- To make the dolmas, place a chard leaf horizontally before you on a flat surface with the veins and stem protruding upward. Place a tablespoon of the rice mixture into the middle of the leaf, spreading it out horizontally into a cigar shape along the main leaf vein (see photo above). Fold in each side on the left and right, then take the side facing nearest you and fold it over the rice mixture, rolling the dolma tightly up as you do so. Place seem side down a plate, and continue with the remaining chard leaves.
- Serve with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil; with yogurt blended with a little salt, garlic and mint or with a spicy marinara sauce. I like them either of these ways, served as part of a larger mezze platter with hummus, tabbouleh and salad.
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