In a nutshell (TL;DR) Dolmas are stuffed grape leaves or vegetables (commonly peppers or zucchini) steamed for several minutes inside a pot with about an inch of salted water (or broth) brought to...
In a nutshell (TL;DR)
Dolmas are stuffed grape leaves or vegetables (commonly peppers or zucchini) steamed for several minutes inside a pot with about an inch of salted water (or broth) brought to a boil, then kept at a low simmer with a lid. The stuffing components vary and are easily tweaked for vegan/vegetarians or allergies, but often include a mixture of herbs and spices, rice (cooked or uncooked), eggs as a binder, and/or ground meat.
For my next trick, I'll show you how to make them using only 4 words in the next sentence. Here's the entire process.
Grocery list (ingredients in bold are suitable for vegans. Ingredients with a † are optional.)
- † 30 - 50 fresh grape leaves or brined leaves
- 4 bell peppers
- 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil for drizzling
- † juice of half a lemon
- water or stock enough to cover an inch in the pot
- 500g [1 lb] ground meat (pork, beef, and lamb are most common)
- † 180g [1 cup] uncooked white rice
- 10g [1 TBSP] kosher salt
- † 1 whole egg
- † 1 diced medium onion
- 2 - 4 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 - 4 tablespoons ground paprika
- † 2 - 4 tablespoons ground coriander
- † 1 - 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- † 1 tablespoon dried red chili flakes
Double the uncooked white rice and cook as directed on the package in water or vegetable stock with the salt, pepper, and spices. Let cool, then mix in diced onion (if using) and proceed with assembly and cooking as directed below, but reduce the total simmering time to 15 - 20 minutes.
Step-by-step (with higher res photos)
- Trim the stems off your fresh grape leaves and cut the tops off the bell peppers (if using), removing the stem and seedy core. Retain the cut piece as a "lid" for each pepper.
- Add your stuffing ingredients to a large bowl and mix them all thoroughly with a spoon or clean wet hands.
- Hold a prepared leaf centered on your palm underside (veiny side) up and place a tablespoon of filling towards the center of the leaf.
- Fold the left bottom part of the leaf up horizontally and press onto the wet filling.
- Fold the remaining left half vertically over the filling and press gently to crease.
- Fold the right bottom part to cover the remaining exposed filling.
- Fold the remaining right half of the leaf over the left.
- Firmly roll the filled part of the wrapping up once. Press to shape into a rough cylinder.
- Continue rolling until the end point of the leaf can be tucked under on a flat surface.
- Repeat for the other leaves, but retain enough to cover each pepper lid.
- Stuff the bell peppers with the remaining filling and top with a lid and a leaf to cover the stem hole.
- Place the peppers upright in a large pot, leaning them against the sides if necessary.
- Layer the stuffed leaves on the bottom of the pot between the peppers, flap end facing down.
- Add cool water (or broth) just to cover the layer of wrapped leaves, or at least an inch. Don't worry if a few float up.
- Drizzle with olive oil, grind some black pepper on, and add a couple good pinches of salt to the water - if you're only using bell peppers, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon to mimic the flavor the grape leaves would've added during cooking.
- Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then add a lid and back the heat down just enough enough to simmer.
- Let simmer for at least 45 minutes (60+ if using bell peppers) or until the meat is cooked and the rice soft enough to eat.
Store with the broth in the cooking pot for under a day. For longer, refrigerate and reheat on the stove or microwave. You can experiment with freezing cooked grape leaf dolmas and steaming them to thaw and re-cook, but I've never tried - they don't last long enough in my house.
Sourcing grape leaves
To identify a potential vine, look for curly forked tendrils that climb and clusters of tiny immature green grapes. This source has good photos and background info.
Wild grapevines grow in many locations that are conducive to growing wine grapes. They often thrive in moist habitats located next to streams or riverbanks, but can also be found in forested areas, meadows, along roadsides and are especially fond of any kind of man-made fencing.
Or you can get them in a jar online or in the international section of your local large grocery store.
NB: Do your research and be careful when harvesting wild plants. The dangerous lookalikes to wild grapes are Canada moonseed (Menispermum canadense) and porcelain berry (Ampelopsis glandulosa var. brevipendunculata)
What? Does this look like a typically self-indulgent food blogger post florid with vapid musings only tangentially related to the recipe because longer word count pushes such entries to top SEO results? ...ok, just this once.
Used to work with an older Iraqi watchmaker who came to the country as a highly-skilled refugee. Sometimes I'd give him a ride to the shop from his apartment, and in limited English he'd insist on cooking us dinner before I left. When he visited another co-worker's place, he noticed wild grape leaves on several vines growing out of the property, and collected them. I saw the leaf pile on the counter and asked what he was going to do with them, and if he was sure they were edible. "Yes, yes! For dolmas. I'll show you," he said, removing a pack of ground pork and bell peppers from the fridge.
For the next couple summers, I made dolmas from the wild grapes in the neighborhood, and now I have good neighbors who allow me to prune and harvest excess leaves from their fruiting grapevines during the season.