An easy recipe for dolma or stuffed grape leaves that’s healthy and hearty. Check out the video and tutorial on how to make stuffed grape leaves.
If you love classic Mediterranean recipes like spanakopita and Turkish stuffed eggplant, you’re going to love today’s recipe which is another classic: Dolmas, also known as dolmades or stuffed grape leaves. Once you try this vegetarian dolma recipe, you won’t bother to order it at a restaurant. And the best part? You can make a big batch and freeze them!
What is dolma?
Dolma is a family of stuffed vegetables that is common through the Middle East and the Mediterranean. To make dolma, vegetables such as zucchini, tomatoes and aubergine which are a large part of the Mediterranean diet are stuffed with lamb or beef, rice and herbs and cooked to perfection. One of the most popular types of dolma is stuffed vine leaves that are also called sarma in Turkish.
The origin of dolma
According to Wikipedia, stuffed grape leaves have been a big part of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines for centuries. However, the exact origins of dolma or dolmades as the Greek call them is unknown. You can find stuffed grape leaves in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries such as Iran, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and the Balkans. Each country has a special recipe for dolmas and these recipes may vary region to region. Some are only vegetarian whereas some also make dolmas with rice and meat.
What does dolma mean? The word dolma comes from the Turkish verb dolmak which means to fill.
Turkish dolmas vs Greek dolmades
Both Turkey and Greece have very rich cuisines with so many similarities. Both Turkish and Greek stuffed grape leaves use rice as the filling. Turkish dolmas, known as yaprak sarmasi usually contains a bit of tomato paste and also pine nuts whereas the Greek version known as dolmades contains more herbs such as green onions and dill. It’s important to note that both cuisines instruct that the stuffed grape leaved should be rolled into cigars.
Is dolma vegetarian?
This completely depends on the recipe and the region it comes from. Iranian stuffed grape leaves known as dolmeh are made with meat, rice and split chickpeas. Turkish yaprak sarma (dolma) on the other hand in vegetarian and doesn’t call for any kind of meat. The recipe we have here is for vegetarian stuffed grape leaves with rice.
What are dolma ingredients?
To make Mediterranean dolma or dolmades, you need the following ingredients:
- Grape leaves
- Olive oil
- Short grain rice
- Tomato paste
- Dried mint
- Pine nuts
Fresh grape leaves vs jarred grape leaves
When making dolma recipe, you always need grape leaves. Some like to use fresh grape leaves whereas other prefer jarred ones. Jarred grape leaves are ready to use since they’ve been marinated and blanched already. You can find jarred grape leaves in brine online or at your local Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Turkish store. If using fresh grape leaves, it’s best to blanch them in hot salted water for a few minutes to soften them and make them easy to roll.
I prefer using jarred grape leaves because the leaves are usually big and easy to roll. I also like the fact that an unopened jar of grape leaves in brine keeps indefinitely. It’s best to stock up on a few jars since they keep for a very long time.
How to make dolma stuffed grape leaves
Making this vegetarian dolmas is easier than what you think. Make sure to watch the tutorial video to see how to make dolma. There are only three steps to make this tasty Mediterranean delicacy:
- Make the filling: Heat some olive oil in a pan and saute onion until translucent. Add in the rice and cook for just a few minutes. Then add the tomato paste, cinnamon, dried mint, sugar, pine nuts, parsley and salt. Stir well and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat off.
- Roll the dolmas: lay flat a grape leaf in front of you on a clean surface. Place about 1 tablespoon of the rice mixture on the leaf (near where the stem was) and then start rolling. To roll, fold in left and right side, then the bottom and then roll tightly into a cigar. Don’t stuff the grape leaf too much. Each dolma is best to be as thick as a finger.
- Cook the dolmas: Cover the bottom of a large pot with grape leaves from the jar and place stuffed grape leaves in the pot to cover the bottom. Layer the dolmas on top of each other and nestle them tightly next to each other to make sure they won’t open up when cooking. When all the dolmas are in the pot, pour 1/2 cup vegetable oil over the dolmas. Shake the pot a bit to make sure the oil goes all the way to the bottom of the pot. Gently pour boiling water over the dolmas until it barely covers them. Place a plate upside down on the stuffed grape leaves and cover with a lid. Place the pot over medium high heat until the water starts simmering. Turn the heat on low and cook covered.
How long should dolmas cook for
It take about 45 to 50 minutes for dolmas to cook completely. To check, take one of the dolmas out of the pot and let it cool for a minute. Bite into it and if the rice is cooked completely, the dolmas are ready to eat.
Are dolmas served hot or cold?
We get asked this question often. While this is a matter of personal preference, it’s common to serve vegetarian dolmas cold and stuffed grape leaves with meat usually warm or at room temperature. Turkish restaurants always serve Turkish dolma cold alongside other mezze dishes and Iranians usually serve Persian dolmeh warm since it contains meat.
What to serve with dolmas
Turks tend to serve their dolmas with some lemon and plain yogurt. Some would heat butter and cook a little bit of Allepo pepper in it and drizzle the red melted butter over yogurt before serving it with the dolmas.
How to store dolmas
The best thing about dolmas is that they rarely go bad. It’s best to store them in an airtight container and refrigerate. You can have them right out of the fridge or warm. They make a wonderful appetizer or midday snack.
Can I reheat stuffed grape leaves?
Yes! You can simply microwave them or place them in a sauce pan with just one tablespoon of water over medium low heat until heated through.
How long are stuffed grape leaves good for
Mediterranean dolmas, especially the vegetarian ones keep good for a long time. You can keep them in the fridge for 5-7 days or freeze for months.
Can you freeze stuffed grape leaves?
It’s easy to freeze dolmas or dolmades. Place them in a freezer bag in one layer and freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, simply heat them in the microwave or place them in a sauce pan with just a few tablespoons of water. Bring it to simmer, cover and cook until completely heated through.
Notes and tips to make dolma
- Dolmades are made with short grain rice, please don’t use substitutes like cauliflower rice for this recipe as the flavor, texture and the amount of moisture would alter the results.
- The rice is cooked only halfway when you prepare the filling and will finish cooking when it’s stuffed in the grape leaves. Therefore it’s important to use rice that doesn’t get too large or long when cooked. I suggest you use short or medium grain rice such as jasmine rice and don’t use basmati rice since it gets longer and longer when cooked and might get out of the grape leaves.
- When you start making this vegetarian dolma recipe, go ahead and use the whole jar of grape leaves. A complete jar of grape leaves gives you more than enough dolmades but you can simply freeze the leftovers and enjoy them later.
- The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of rice mixture for each grape leaf. Feel free to use less if the grape leaf is not big enough. It’s important not to over stuff the grape leaves.
Looking for more Turkish recipes?
- Turkish potato salad (patates salatasi)
- Zucchini fritters (mucver)
- Bulgur pilaf
- Turkish yogurt and cucumber (cacik)
Tools and ingredients used in this recipe:
Authentic Dolma Recipe (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
An easy recipe for dolma or stuffed grape leaves that's healthy and hearty. Check out the video and tutorial on how to make stuffed grape leaves.
- 1 jar grape leaves
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions finely chopped
- 1 cup short grain rice
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup parsley chopped
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- Boiling water
Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute onion until translucent. Add in the rice and cook for just a few minutes.
Then add the tomato paste, cinnamon, dried mint, sugar, pine nuts, parsley and salt. Stir well and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat off.
Lay flat a grape leaf on a clean surface. Place about 1 tablespoon of the rice mixture on the leaf and then start rolling. To roll, fold in left and right side, then the bottom and then roll tightly into a cigar. Please watch the video for the complete tutorial.
Cover the bottom of a large pot with grape leaves from the jar and place stuffed grape leaves in the pot to cover the bottom.
Layer the dolmas on top of each other and nestle them tightly next to each other to make sure they won't open up when cooking. When all the dolmas are in the pot, pour 1/2 cup vegetable oil over the dolmas. Shake the pot a bit to make sure the oil goes all the way to the bottom of the pot. Gently pour boiling water over the dolmas until it barely covers them.
Place a plate upside down on the stuffed grape leaves and cover with a lid. Place the pot over medium high heat until the water starts simmering. Turn the heat on low and cook covered for about 45 minutes.
To see if the dolmas are cooked, take one out of the pot and let it cool for a minute. Bite it and if the rice is cooked and soft, the dolmas are ready.
Serve cold with some yogurt and lemon.
- Vegetarian dolmas are usually served cold with some plain yogurt.
- You can store the leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 7 days.
- Dolmades freeze very well. Store them in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, you can either use the microwave or heat them in a sauce pan with just a little bit of water.
- You can find grape leaves online or at Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Turkish stores.
- Don't over stuff the grape leaves, a good rolled dolma should be as thick as an index finger.
- Don't forget to place a plate on the dolmas before turning the heat on. This will keep the stuffed grape leaves intact and will make sure that don't open up.