Saturday, October 4, 2008

Phylla from Kalymnos

My family comes from a relatively small island in Greece’s Dodecanese known as Kalymnos. It’s a fairly dry island with rugged cliffs famous for rock-climbing. And those cliffs are latent with thyme which makes for a distinctly sweet aroma across the entire island—at least that’s how I see it. The thyme also makes for amazing honey, which I love and smuggle (shhh ...) back to the States every chance I get (but that’ll be the topic of a later post).

Personally, I think Kalymnos is the most beautiful island I have ever been to (Biased? Me? You think?!). Kalymnians are quite proud of their roots and take pleasure in keeping family traditions alive. The island enjoys some tourism, but is relatively unspoiled. Over the years, many Kalymnians have immigrated to various countries, a great majority, however, to America and Australia in particular. I personally have many a cousin in Australia, a place I unfortunately have never been. No matter where Kalymnians find themselves, however, they’ve managed to keep fellow island immigrants, traditions and customary dishes close to their hearts.

Grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice is a traditional dish on the island of Kalymnos and were always a staple in my Giagia’s (that’s Greek for grandmother) cooking repertoire. Whereas the rest of Greece refers to similarly stuffed grape leaves as “Dolmades”, Kalymnians have simply named this dish “Phylla”, the Greek word for leaves. Growing up, a typical Sunday dinner for us included my Giagia’s Phylla, pastichio, pot roast (our nod to an American classic), stewed peas and mashed potatoes. The sight, smell and taste of any of these dishes bring about a flood of memories for me.

I’d like to submit this recipe for Phylla, my beloved Giagia’s, to Ivy of Kopiaste and Val of More Than Burnt Toast for their World Food Day event. Everyone, everywhere should enjoy a warm family meal that symbolizes so much more than sustenance and this is my virtual contribution. I hope you enjoy these as much as my family and I.

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat and Rice (Phylla)
1 ½ pounds of a combination of ground beef, veal and pork
5 tablespoons rice
1 large onion
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons (left aside) diced tomatoes with their juices
Salt and pepper to taste
1 16-ounce jar brine-packed grape leaves, rinsed and drained
2 ½ cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a food processor pulse the onion until finely chopped. In a large bowl, combine the meat, onion, tomato, rice, salt and pepper and mix well.
Layer some grape leaves and the 3 tablespoons diced tomato in the bottom of a large pot.
Place one grape leaf vein side up with the stem towards you. Cut the stem with a scissors. Place a rounded tablespoonful of the filling near the stem. Fold the two sides of the leaf over the filing and then fold the bottom and top towards the middle to create a small square “package.” Place stuffed grape leaves seam side down on the layered grape leaves and tomato in the pot. Continue with remaining filling and leaves, packing them relatively tightly in the pot.
Pour stock and oil over the stuffed grape leaves. If there are any leaves left over, layer them on top. Set an inverted heatproof plate over the leaves so as to prevent them from unrolling. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low, simmering for 30 minutes.
Add the lemon juice and cook for another 30 minutes. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt.


Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

I know a few "kalymniotes" here in Australia Maria..the "phylla" look great...excuse my ignorance but aren't they dolmades?

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

This is a perfect recipe Maria. Thank you so much for sharing this and a small part of your life with us.I will be sure and add you to the round up for our event. Hugs and filakias X0X0 Val

Ivy said...

Maria, thanks for sharing this lovely family story with us. This is the first Greek version of dolmades I have read which is as close to the Cypriot koupepia. In Cyprus we also make them with tomato and not avgolemono.
Every day I realize that Cypriot cuisine has quite a lot of similarities to the Dodekanese. I was also surprised that the accent of the people I have met who are from Kalymnos, Rhodes etc., is just the same as to the Cypriots.

Peter M said...

Maria, thanks for giving as a little trip to far, far Kalymnos. I also like hearing regional twists to Greek standards.

I did not know you folks call dolmades "phylla".

Is the giaourti topping also an island "touch"?

Maria said...

Thank you all for your kind words ... it's funny how different the Grek islands can be from one another, and you're right Ivy, Kalymnos and the Dodecanissa have many similarities with Cyprus. The dialect in Kalymnos is very different from other parts Greece and my husband (born in Agrinio, raised in Athens) often doesn't understand many of the words I use as they are pure Kalymnian phrases!

Peter M., actually I am not sure if all Kalymnians use yogurt or if it is something my family does, but I love it either way!

Lulu Barbarian said...

Beautiful, Maria! I love yogurt toppings, and you have now given me an excuse to put yogurt on dolmades. Let me know if you need any return favors! :-)

Rosie said...

Hello Maria nice to *meet* you. I have just come from Ivy's blog where she has a lovely post up introducing you.

A wonderful entry for the World food day.

Rosie x

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Today is World Food Day Maria. Thank you so much for wanting to participate and spread the word about this global issue. The party is starting. Let's DANCE!!!!

Jude said...

I love stuffed graped leaves in all forms. Meat and rice makes it a complete meal in one bite :)

Laurie Constantino said...

Great recipe, and interesting to read about Kalymnos. You'll be happy to know it's perfectly okay to bring dried herbs back into the United States. In fact, when we recently returned from Greece, my bags were very carefully inspected at customs and the thyme (and oregano and bay leaves) were all approved without problem. One year, I brought how 2 kilos of oregano - the customs folks really got a laugh out of it, but it was perfectly okay to bring in.

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Maria, I have been to Kalymnos several times. I worked in Mastichari on Kos for an entire summer and as a ferry to Kalymnos the "padofla" comes and goes from Mastichari several times a day, it was only natural that I make the trip. I love Kalymnos, the harbour is simply beautiful. Kalymnians also have some of the most interesting names, like Miketi, and Sakelarios etc...

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