Stuck dreaming about island life? Let your palate take you to the beach fronts of Vanuatu with this island dolmades recipe.
Portuguese national and Aussie expat chef Marcus Xavier is at the helm of Papaya Loco, a popular cooking school and retreat on Vanuatu’s main island of Efate and shares his locally-inspired version of a Mediterranean favourite, dolmades. These little parcels of rice are flavoursome and are great paired with a glass of Papaya Loco’s special tropical sangria and some mambo tunes to set the scene.
Island Dolmades Recipe (serves 4)
12 island cabbage leaves or outer spinach leaves
2 cups of cooked rice
250grams of ground beef
1 large brown onion
2 sprigs of fresh dill
Salt & pepper
1 x 400grams can of whole tomatoes
¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sugar
4 large garlic cloves crushed
½ cup of white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
To make the rice filling: In a large bowl, use your hands to mix the cooked rice with the raw ground beef, herbs and finely diced onions. Season the rice filling with salt and ground white pepper. Set aside.
Prepare the leaves by removing the stems or any larger veins that will prevent from rolling the leaves easily. Blanch them in boiling water for about 10 seconds. If using regular cabbage blanch until tender and you can roll them.
On the bench, lay the leaves out. In your hands roll up approximately 2 tablespoons of the rice filling (or divide it into the number of leaves you have) and roll it up in the leaf. Set them up on a plate and prepare the tomato sauce.
Using a potato masher, mash the tomatoes into a pulp. It can be as fine or coarse as you prefer. Add the crushed garlic, oregano and nutmeg and set aside. Best to do this an hour or so before cooking so that the flavours can develop.
In a heavy-bottomed pan, add the oil and heat it up to take the chill from it. Pour in your tomato sauce and cook for 5 minutes, just enough to take the rawness from it. Add the wine and sugar, bring to the boil and cook until it forms a loose sauce. Approx. 5-7 minutes.
Lay the dolmades in the sauce and spoon some sauce over them. Put the lid on and cook for 15–20 minutes. Check every 5 minutes to spoon more sauce. If it gets too thick, add some water or more wine!
Remember to taste as you go with this dish and adjust your seasoning as you require.
Serve up in the pan. Allow three dolmades per serve and give them a final sprinkle of olive oil to give them some shine!
Top tip: You can prepare everything the day before and leave it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook.
Feature image: Vanuatu Tourism
See more: Food