These collard rolls filled with rice pilaf take their cue from dolmades, the traditional Greek finger food parcels of rice, nuts and herbs. Instead of the usual grape leaves, collard leaves become the wrappers.
When I noticed the couple in foreign clothing plucking leaves from the overgrown shady arbor in the back yard next door, I didn’t think much of it. Except that it looked like they were handling treasures the way they discussed and selected the leaves.
Only later did it register—those were grape leaves they were harvesting. They probably stuffed them with seasoned rice and herbs—and made dolmades. Imagine their delight when they discovered that beautiful grape leaf arbor.
Did they follow a family recipe from the old country? I wonder if they mixed lamb in their rice. Or was their filling vegetarian, like the vibrant rice pilaf in these collard rolls? Did they serve their dolmades with a sauce, such as the egg and lemon sauce, avgolomeno?
I’ve never made dolmades with fresh grape leaves, only with the briny ones that come very tightly packed in jars or cans. I bet the couple who gathered the leaves from the arbor next door would say that collard leaves stuff and cook a lot like fresh grape leaves. That’s why I’m filling garden fresh collard leaves with this vegetarian “dolma” filling.
Once, when my mother-in-law helped me assemble dolmades, she was in charge of laying out the grape leaves, the ones in from the grocery store. She marveled at how many leaves came out of that one jar—about 70. Don’t worry, this recipe makes 8 collard rolls, just the right amount for 4 people. Leave the 70 batch for another day!
- Classic Greek dolmades have chopped dill and mint in the filling. I used fresh parsley, basil and rosemary because they came in our Ranui CSA box.
- Pine nuts and currants are also traditional–here I switch to chopped walnuts and raisins, mostly because they are staples in my pantry. Vegans will appreciate this quick, simple and flavorful tomato sauce—it’s delicious with the rice and greens.
- Allepo pepper’s fruity undertones provide agreeable spice. Substitute black pepper if you don’t have Allepo. (I order Aleppo pepper from World Spice Merchants in Seattle. Or you can buy Aleppo via my Amazon link here.)
- If this recipe seems intimidating, and/or you prefer shorter kitchen sessions, break the steps down into several days. The rice and onion can be made earlier in the day, or days beforehand. Or use a boxed quinoa or rice mix for the filling.
- Cooked rice keeps well in the freezer. And, once assembled, the rolls can be frozen. Let them thaw before baking.
Here’s another recipe featuring collard greens: Black-eyed Peas and Collards
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Serve these Greek inspired rolls with a salad of sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives and feta cheese. For dessert, drizzle honey over thick creamy yogurt and fresh peaches.
- 1 tablespoon plus one tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 ½ cups brown rice
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 2 medium zucchini cut in ½-inch dice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1 cup currants or chopped raisins
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
- ½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon Real Salt
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 8 large collard greens (see note)
- ½ lemon, very thinly sliced, optional
- Prepare the filling:
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a saucepan over medium flame. Add the onion: cook and stir about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
- Add the brown rice. Cook, stirring often, until the rice gets a bit brown and begins to crackle. Add the vegetable stock. Cover the pan. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to the lowest setting possible. Cook without stirring, 45 minutes to an hour. (To check if the liquid has been absorbed or not, tilt the pan to the side.) Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.
- While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium flame. Add the diced zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cubes begin to color. Stir in the minced garlic and cook a few more minutes.
- Add the cooked rice, walnuts, currants, parsley, basil and rosemary to the zucchini and garlic. Season with Aleppo pepper and salt. Set aside.
- Prepare the sauce:
- In a blender puree the diced tomatoes. Stir in the remaining parsley and basil. Set aside.
- Assemble the rolls:
- Keeping the leaves intact, trim out the lower and thickest part of the main stem of each collard leaf. (see note) You will have a V at the base where the sides connect.
- To blanch and soften the collards, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice-cold water.
- Blanch the collard leaves in the boiling water for 4 minutes. Immediately transfer to the ice water. (The ice water stops the cooking and keeps the leaves green.)
- Drain the blanched leaves on kitchen towels. You can fill and roll the leaves on the towels.
- Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lightly oil a baking dish.
- Place about ¼ cup of the filling on each collard leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling, overlapping the 2 sides where the stem was cut out. Keeping the sides tucked in, roll up tightly.
- Arrange the collard rolls in the baking dish. Spoon the remaining filling around the sides. Keeping the green rolls visible, spoon the tomato sauce over them. Cut the lemon slices in half and place decoratively over the rolls.
- Cover and bake 20 to 25 minutes.
- Serve the rolls on a bed of the filling, garnished with the lemon slices.
The collard leaves in our CSA box were huge. I removed the stem completely and filled each side as if it were one large leaf.