If you wander through the Istanbul suburb called Beyoğlu, you’ll soon encounter men carrying circular aluminium trays full of mussels stuffed with spiced rice. Give the first man you see a lira and you’ll get three or four mussels and a slice of lemon on a paper plate. You’ll then become addicted, and feel compelled to go to the street called Nevizade where, with any luck, you’ll find a meyhane that will serve you mussel dolmas sitting down.
When I came to Sydney, I met an Armenian lady named
First make the stuffing. Finely chop the onions. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Place the currants in a bowl, cover with warm water, and leave to soak for 15 minutes. Toast the pine nuts in a frying pan over medium heat for 3 minutes, shaking often.
Wash the rice under cold running water and then add to the simmering onions. Increase the heat to medium. Grate the tomatoes over the rice. Strain the currants and add to the pan. Add the pine nuts, pepper, pimento and cinnamon, and stir. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Pick the parsley leaves, discard the stalks and finely chop the leaves. Finely chop the dill. Mix the parsley and dill into the stuffing, then set aside.
Now, open the mussels. If you’ve bought the mussels in a vacuum bag, open the bag over a bowl to catch any liquid inside. Scrub the shells clean. Using a blunt knife, carefully force the point of the knife into the gap at the pointy end of each mussel, and slice through the meat so the shell opens with half the meat attached to each half shell—once you cut through the thick, round connecting muscle at the bottom of the mussel, it will be easy to open. Pour the juice into a bowl. Snip off the beards and, using your finger, remove any grit at the base. Spread the half shells to tear the muscle of the mussel, but leave the two halves connected. Put
Place a bread and butter plate, face down, in the bottom of a saucepan about
Place the mussels in the pan, with the tips pointing outwards towards the edge of the pan with the shells slightly overlapping (to prevent them opening). Build a tight spiral of shells in the centre of the pan. There should be one layer of mussels. Strain the mussel juice through a sieve lined with a double layer of muslin (cheesecloth) three times, to remove any grit.
Remove the mussels from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. (You can also keep them in the fridge overnight.) Serve the midye dolma on a big platter with lemon wedges for guests to help themselves. The best way to eat them is with your hands, using the top shell to scoop the mixture out of the bottom shell.
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