It was the spring of 2001 and my stomach was a ball of nerves. I was meeting his parents.
Though we had only been dating for a couple of months, I could feel that what we had was the start of something great. If only I could win over his large, tight-knit family.
The group was loud and boisterous, laughing and carrying on in their native Armenian tongue. Before I could feel intimidated by the language barrier my attention was drawn to the plentiful spread of food down the center of the table.
Pans of tender shish kabobs, heaping bowls of fluffy pilaf and crisp tabbouleh, plates of salty white cheese, piles of puff pastries and lavash bread, platters of freshly sliced veggies…and tightly wrapped grape leaf dolmas.
One bite and I knew that I’d just come home.
This recipe for Grain-Free Dolmas with Ground Chicken is my guilt-free version of one of my all-time favorite Armenian dishes. It’s packed with ground chicken, shredded cauliflower rice and jazzed up with spices and some minced prunes for sweetness. Enjoy!
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 2 gloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon garam marsala
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Pinch of allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- 8 prunes, finely minced
- 1 head cauliflower, shredded in food processor
- 2 lemons, one for juice and one sliced
- Dash of salt and pepper
- 20 grape leaves
- ¼ cup water
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large skillet, over medium heat, warm the coconut oil. Add the onion and cook until clear. Add the chicken, garlic, garam marsala, cumin, oregano, allspice, ginger, coriander and prunes. Cook until the meat is still a little pink.
- Add the shredded cauliflower and combine with the meat mixture, cooking for 3 minutes. Squeeze the lemon juice over the mixture, season with salt and pepper, and stir. Set the mixture aside until it is cool enough to handle.
- Carefully separate the grape leaves and unroll. Spoon a small amount of the meat mixture in the center of the leaf, roll the bottom of the leaf up, then fold the sides over and continue to roll until the end is tucked underneath.
- Lay the dolmas in a 9×13 baking pan, seam-side down. Lay the lemon slices over the dolmas and squeeze any remaining lemon juice over the pan. Add the water to the pan.
- Tightly cover with foil. Bake for 30-45 minutes until the leaves turn a dark shade and the water has evaporated. Enjoy!
One thing that I’ve learned from my in-laws is the importance of using simple, fresh ingredients. Nothing tastes as good as veggies that have been grown in your garden or fruit that’s ripened on your own tree. Farmer’s markets are the next best thing when it comes to fresh, local and organic ingredients. Real food really does taste better than any processed food on the planet.
And the great thing is that the real food is better for you too 🙂