To follow the Greek tradition I cook bacala –salt cod– on March 25 (Annunciation day). But instead of the usual cod fritters that most people prepare, I decided to roll chard leaves around a multi-colored stuffing of fish and vegetables.
Salt cod was called ‘mountain fish,’ or ‘poor people’s fish,’ in Greece because in the old days it was cheap and affordable all over the Mediterranean, even in the remotest villages. Imported from Norway or Iceland it has now become a kind of delicacy, especially the best pieces. In Barcelona’s spectacular Boqueria market there are many different kinds of salted cod, sold already soaked and boned. In Genoa, in the maze of the old Medieval neighborhood I came across this spectacular shop where salted cod was soaking in marble basins!
I use salted cod because it complements beautifully the carrots, leek, tomato, rice and herbs. Bakaliaropita, a pie with salted cod and vegetables from Cephalonia is my inspiration. In fact you can enclose the exact same filling in puff pastry or in home-rolled phyllo, maybe adding a few chopped chard leaves to the mixture, and you will make a delicious pie—at some point I will give you a detailed recipe.
But even if you have never made dolmades—the Greek term for any kind of stuffed leaves— watch my little video, then read the recipe’s instructions and you see how simple it is. Starting with the large and flexible chard leaves you will get the hang of it and then you can move to the smaller grape leaves to make the popular rice and herb dolmades.
I have deep respect for the hard work of the cooks in Gaziantep, who pride themselves on their small and neatly stuffed leaves. To achieve the tiniest of rolls they halve the chard leaves for their Pazi Sarma and roll each piece like a thin cigar, according to Gaziantep Cookery: A Taste of Sun and Fire, edited by Aylin Öney Tan. I admit that I don’t have such patience…
See the Recipe: Chard Leaves Stuffed with Fish, Rice, Vegetables and Herbs