Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

grape leaf and portion of oats before rolling

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Toscan oatmeal dolmas

Don’t expect these dolmas to taste like the usual Mediterranean grape leaf rolls. They’re a sensation all to themselves.

Grape leaf cuisine can be a way for the modern gardener to eat more seasonal greens. Grape leaves are perfectly edible alone. If you taste one, you’ll find it pleasantly tart, but a bit dry and fibrous. They need a rich, volumous filling to help chew.

Grape leaves come in May and early June when other greens can be scarce. The winter greens have finished, but the summer plants not yet big. I say “come” because grape greens may literally fall off the vine.

Grape plants are not very intelligent. Sometimes they put out shoots into open air, where there is nothing for support.

upright unsupported grape shoots

Grape shoots growing straight up.

When these shoots get too long, they snap off, yielding yard-long strings of tender grape leaves.

grape shoot that snapped off the vine

First you catch your grape leaves.

The ancient Toscans would have scoffed at the idea of buying brined grape leaves, instead making use of this windfall. Rather than letting the goats eat them up, the frugal Toscans invented oatmeal dolmas.

The ancient Toscans, a seafaring people, were in trade contact with the Scottish Isles, mainly because they liked the music. Naturally, they would also borrow from the cuisine. The Toscans didn’t have time to go out and buy fifteen different spices (especially when they were seafaring). Instead of an elaborate Mediterranean style dish, which takes all day, they came up with the simplest grape leaf rolls — oatmeal.

The word “dolma”, from the Turkish verb “dolmak”, means “to be filled,” However, in Toscan, “dolma” is a euphemism for, “Stop whining and eat! There are starving children in Scotland”.

How to:
Make a batch of oatmeal. Size depends on how many grape leaves you have.

bowl of cooked oatmeal

Don’t skimp on the goodies.

It’s especially good with raisins and lots of nuts.

grape leaf and portion of oats before rolling

Big leaf, little leaf, eat more greens.

Put a portion on the base of a grape leaf, and roll it up. If you got your leaves from an actual grape vine, there will be bigger leaves and smaller ones. The small ones are of course too small to make their own dolmas. You can tuck a small leaf inside a larger one, to help fill any holes.

rolled up dolma

Rolled up!

You don’t need to blanch the leaves or anything. Just roll them up. Then, put them in an InstantPot, with a little water, and pressure cook for 20 minutes. That’s all there is to it.

dolmas in InstantPot

A small test batch, for breakfast.

It is not known how the ancient Toscans cooked these dolmas, before the modern InstantPot, perhaps the radioactive hot springs that dot the Toscan landscape.

grape bud clusters

You can add the tender bits for an added treat.

Each oatmeal dolma will make one or two bites. The tartness of the grape leaf is reminiscent of fruit. Be sure to eat them outdoors, preferably overlooking the sea.


white grit with ruler showing few mm size

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Clean the grit out of sesame seeds

Use water flotation to remove the grit (small rocks) from sesame seeds.

I have been piqued that even high quality sesame seeds contain grit. There’s the disconcerting crunch between my teeth, when eating food made from these sesame seeds. You don’t want to wear out your teeth, chewing rocks! A cracked tooth can cost thousands of dollars to repair. Who needs that?

Cleaning seeds and other agricultural products is a challenge. The only practical way, on commercial scale, is to make use of some difference in properties between the contaminant and the desired material. For seeds, this is typically some combination of sieving and air-blowing.

When you cook a batch of dry beans, you occasionally find a rock or clump of dirt masquerading as one of the beans. it got through the threshing because it was about the same size and weight as a bean. Beans are big enough you can spot the rocks, and pick them out. But sesame seeds are too small.

After trying this a couple of times, I came up with a way, and decided to post this. Here, I use the difference in density. Sesame seeds are oily, and therefore mostly float in water or at least stay suspended. The grit sinks.

Sesame seeds seem to have a life of their own. They are light and slippery, and yet at the same time like to stick to everything. Pouring and spooning them, some always get out and make a mess. So I thought ahead. I was going to have a mass of wet sesame seeds I would need to dry. And dry fairly fast, to prevent mold.

I have a dehydrator. The setup for drying the seeds is one of the dehydrator trays, and a clean bandana.

dehydrator tray and folded bandana

Set up for drying

The bandana goes on top of the tray screen. It serves as a strainer to hold the sesame seeds, while letting water go through. But the cloth is bigger than the tray. The edges would be in the way, when slid into the dehydrator.

bandana draped over dehydrator tray, showing the bandana is bigger

Bandana overlaps tray

So the edges of the cloth are tucked behind the tray screen.

back side of dehydrator tray showing cloth edges folded out of the way

Fold the edges under

The time to get this ready is at the start, before fumbling with a mass of wet sesame seeds.

bandana with edges tucked under dehydrator tray mesh

Edges tucked

Next, the sesame seeds. I did about a 3-cup batch.

3 cups of sesame seeds in a glass quart measure cup

Batch of sesame seeds

I added water to make 4 cups, and stirred a bit.

measure cup and sesame seeds filled to 4 cups with water

Add water to float the seeds

Then I just poured out the floating sesame seeds on the cloth. I also included the sesame seeds that were not clearly floating but only suspended in the water.

pouring water and sesame seeds out of measure cup

Pour out the floating seeds

The grit stays on the bottom.

water and residue in measure cup after pouring off floating seeds

Grit is on the bottom

I spread out the wet sesame seeds and got them drying. The lowest temperature setting is enough, about 90°F.

spreading wet sesame seeds on dehydrator tray

Spread out the wet seeds

The next part is optional, if you want to prove the grit is in that residue. It just looks like more sesame seeds.

sesame seed residue in bottom of measure cup

The dregs

I put the remainder on some metal that could take the heat, in this case, a juice can lid.

residual sesame seeds on can lid

Support to burn

I set up to burn out the remaining organic matter.

propane torch showing how it will burn the residue

Set up to burn

After the water boiled away, the seed oil caught fire.

residuals sesame seeds burning with a flame

Oils burn off

This last part takes a lot of propane, so you might not want to waste the fuel. The charcoal bits have to be red-hot.

propane torch roasting residue

Roast the remainder

The carbon slowly oxidizes away.

glowing carbon burning away

Carbon slowly oxidizes

When the carbon is gone, there are the tell-tale rocks.

grit after burning away carbon

Remaining grit

Sure enough, they are about the size and color of sesame seeds.

white grit with ruler showing few mm size

Measures like sesame seeds.

Meanwhile, the wet sesame seeds are drying. The bandana makes it easy to put them away with minimal mess.

bandana holding dried sesame seeds

Easy pickup