I spent last night doing some research on why my family calls this dish “fila” instead of what it is traditionally called – dolmas or dolmades. I got nothing. It is close to the Greek village Filia which also means friendship in Greece but it doesn’t mean the grape leaf, lamb and rice stuffed goodness that I’m referring to. Perhaps my Dad will enlighten us all today with the reason.
In any case, a friend of mine has been recently asking me a lot of “top 5” questions. Top five ways to die, top five jobs, top five movies, etc. And I’d have to say if I had to choose my top five meals – these would be included. I’ll admit that it might be pure nostalgia but I could literally eat these for breakfast, lunch and dinner — cold, warm or hot — for days. And that is the reason why I wanted them for this year’s birthday dinner.
- 1 large Spanish onion, chopped finely
- 6 roma tomatoes, chopped finely
- 1 large handful of fresh basil (you could use mint to be more traditional)
- 2 cups Basmati rice
- 2 pounds ground lamb
- 1 lemon
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- 1 jar of grape leaves
Assembly: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a food processor, pulse the onion until chopped finely and add to a large bowl. Add the tomatoes and basil to the food processor, chop finely and add to the same bowl. The textures of the tomatoes and onion are different, so I recommend doing this in two steps. Add the uncooked rice, lamb and a large pinch of both salt and pepper to the bowl and combine using your hands. Unroll the grape leaves (some wash them off to remove brine) and add about 2 tablespoons of the mixture into the grape leaf and roll like a burrito to close (I wrapped them too tight last time and some fell apart). Layer them into a large casserole dish. Once filled to the top (see photo) add enough water to cover them. Add the juice of one lemon, a large splash of olive oil and another pinch of salt. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for about an hour. You’ll be able to tell they are done when the water is gone and the rice is tender.