Lemony rice and minced meat nestled in briny grape leaves is a mezze dish that I grew up eating at Lebanese restaurants in Dubai. Vine leaves have wrapped their ribbed surfaces around much of the Middle East, and while the Arabs refer to them as mahshi (stuffed), much of the region identifies with some variant of the word “dolma”. The linguistic trail points to the Turks, whose dolmak or doldurmak refers to the verb to fill.
The only time I drove out exclusively for stuffed vine leaves was to an Iraqi restaurant that claimed to serve dolma as a special on Mondays. I planned to grab the dolma as a light takeaway lunch, bringing it back to work in the hope that I could alternate every few delicious bites with a bitter dose of interminable paperwork.
What unravelled that afternoon was far more interesting than anything I had expected. The takeaway container felt unusually heavy, and the Dh60 price tag made me stare quizzically at the bill – why on earth were stuffed vine leaves so expensive?
It turns out the Iraqi dish was not just limited to vine leaves but was a full-fledged dolma council, presided over by silky onion petals, bitter green peppers, baby aubergines and fleshy, cored tomatoes. Every vegetable clung to its share of stuffing, eager to impress my taste buds with the joint power of rice, minced meat, peppery tomato paste and herbs. The vegetables had been collectively stewed until tender in a broth of fatty lamb ribs, which were stacked up alongside the final dish. My screen saver flickered on. My paperwork was forgotten and my light lunch became an all-consuming feast.
Monday Special at Al Bait Al Baghdadi, Muteena Street, 04 273 7064
Arva Ahmed blogs about hidden food gems in Old Dubai at www.ILiveinaFryingPan.com