Dolmades me Kreas ke Fassolia

Meat-Filled Grape Leaves with Cannellini Beans

THIS UNUSUAL combination of meatstuffed grape leaves simmered with dried beans comes from the Sephardic cooks of the island of Rhodes. In a lovely book, Generations of Mediterranean Sephardic Cooking, Toddy Franco Horowitz has recorded recipes from her grandmother, mother and aunts, who prepared the foods “by feel,” since they had no written recipes. I’ve adapted Horowitz’s recipe, seasoning the beans with fennel instead of cooking them with tomato as she does. As Horowitz points out in her introduction, when the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, they settled in Rhodes and lived there “in relative harmony under the successive rule of Turkey, Italy and Greece.” For a time, most inhabitants of Rhodes were Jewish, according to Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food.

At the beginning of World War II, there were about 2,000 Jews living in Rhodes. But on July 24, 1944, in collaboration with Hitler, Mussolini ordered Rhodes’s Jews to be “transported by sea and rail to German concentration camps. And except for 151 people who survived, the Jewish population of Rhodes was brutally annihilated,” writes Horowitz.

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  • 2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight in water and drained
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • ½ medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces pancetta (optional)
  • ½ cup dry white wine

Stuffed Grape Leaves

  • ½ fennel bulb
  • ½ medium onion
  • 4 scallions (white and most of the green parts), coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 ripe tomato, grated (see Note), or ¼ cup canned diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 3 tablespoons medium-grain rice
  • ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 1 8-ounce jar brine-packed grape leaves or half a 16-ounce jar, drained and rinsed under hot running water for at least 5 minutes
  • 2–2½ cups Chicken Stock or beef stock
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water (optional)
  • 3–4 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds plus tender stalks, or fresh dill
  • 6 thin lemon slices


Make the Beans

Place the beans in a large pot, add cold water to cover by at least 4 inches and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.

Drain the beans, cover with fresh cold water, add the onion, salt and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the beans are almost tender. Drain the beans and discard the bay leaf and onion.

In a large, deep skillet (see Note), heat the oil over medium-high heat and sauté the fennel, onion and pancetta, if using, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Stir in the drained beans and remove from the heat.

Make the Stuffed Grape Leaves

In a food processor, pulse the fennel, onion and scallions until finely chopped. In a large bowl, combine the beef, fennel mixture, tomato, rice, pepper or pepper flakes and salt to taste and mix well with your hands.

Place 1 grape leaf, vein side up, on a work surface, with the stem toward you. Cut off the stem with scissors. Place 1 rounded tablespoon of the filling near the stem. Fold the two sides of the leaf over the filling. Fold over the bottom and roll up the leaf tightly like a cigar (see illustrations). Place seam side down on the beans and continue with the remaining leaves and filling. You should have 28 to 30 stuffed grape leaves.

Pour 2 cups stock and the oil over the stuffed grape leaves. If you have any leftover leaves, place them on top. Set an inverted heatproof plate over the stuffed grape leaves to prevent them from unrolling during cooking. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and a little more stock if needed to almost cover the grape leaves. Cook for 30 minutes more, or until the beans are tender and the filling is cooked through.

Discard the top leaves, if any, and carefully transfer the stuffed grape leaves to a platter; cover to keep warm. With a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a serving bowl and cover to keep warm. You should have about 1½ cups sauce remaining in the pan. If there is more, boil over high heat to reduce; if there is less, add some stock and bring to a boil. Taste and correct the seasonings. For a thicker sauce, stir the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and cook briefly, stirring, until thickened.

Place 4 dolmades on each plate, with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the beans on the side. Pour the sauce over the dolmades, sprinkle with the fennel or dill and garnish with the lemon slices. Serve warm.