The edible fig (Ficus carica) was one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans, long before than wheat and rye. Although native to Western Asia, the fig tree has shaped the history of Mediterranean cultures like no other.
There was a fig tree in The Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve covered their nudity with fig leaves, and many researchers conclude that the forbidden fruit was indeed a fig rather than an apple. This original sin expelled Adam and Eve from paradise. But who could blame them for eating the sweetest fruit?
Ancient Greeks proudly cultivated fig trees for their nutritious fruits, being an essential staple in the diet of athletes and warriors. It was considered a gift from Dionysus, the god of wine and all things sensual, and laws impending the exportation were dictated. Paradoxically, while fig fruit has been often associated to voluptuousness, temptation and female genitals, fig leaves have been used to cover naked figures in art, especially since nudity became a taboo with Christianity.
Fig trees have also inspired countless recipes across the Mediterranean. Sweet desserts like Turkish Delights or fresh appetizers like this typical Greek Dolmades. There are many types of dolmades but they basically consist of tender vine leaves stuffed with rice and fresh herbs, and shaped into little rolls steamed in a lemony sauce. Many centuries ago, ancient Greeks made Dolmades using fig tree leaves rather than vines, they called them Thrion, and they were stuffed with sweetened cheese.
We have combined these two recipes to make the best appetizers for the warmer months ahead. It is best enjoyed on a warm summer’s evening ‘al fresco’ with friends.
12 fig tree leaves
2 bunches of spring onions
2 cloves of garlic
Fresh herbs: ½ bunch of coriander, ½ bunch of dill, one bunch of mint (or just try with the ones you like the most)
2 cups of rice
Water (400 ml)
Olive oil (250 ml), salt and pepper
1. Bleach the fig leaves for 1 minute in boiling, salted water. Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl full of very cold water. When they are ready let them drain in a strainer. Use a small sharp knife to remove any stems or tough veins that they may have.
2. Cut the spring onions, the onion and the garlic into very thin slices and sauté with 3-4 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pot at medium heat for about 10-15 minutes or until they soften and caramelize.
3. Add the rice and sauté for at least 2 minutes. Add the water and stir, then cover the pot, lower the heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes, until the water is evaporated. The filling is ready: take it off the heat and set it aside.
4. Chop the fresh herbs and add to the pan along with the zest of two limes, salt and black pepper to taste. Mix everything an reserve.
5. Place 3-4 fig leaves in the bottom of a wide low stockpot –these will prevent the dolmades from getting burned while cooking. Add 4-5 slices of lemon and the juice of one and a half lemon.
6. Time to stuff and roll the dolmades. Place one leaf on a cutting mat and add 1 tbsp of filling in the centre and start rolling: first from the base of the leaf, then fold the sides, and keep on rolling. Keep the dolmades tight so they don’t open while cooking.
7. Place the dolmades in the stockpot in a row, one next to the other. Fill in as many layers as necessary. Add the rest of the olive oil and cover everything with a plate so the dolmades don’t fall apart while cooking. Cover everything with warm water and bring it to cook at medium heat for about 40-50 minutes.
8. Wait until they cool down and serve along a yogurt sauce; you can keep them in the fridge for about 3-4 days.