Now you can make stuffed grape leaves (also know as dolma or dolmades) at home! This delicious and healthy recipe is made with rice, ground beef, fresh herbs, and wonderful spices. They can be prepared as an appetizer, snack, or dinner, served warm, room temperature, or cold.
First time I ever had a dolma was many years ago at a baby shower. They were arranged on a large white platter in a very beautiful way…but grape leaves? Those are edible? I had no idea. I love trying new food, though, so I dove in. Then ended up eating about 10, along with some Tzatziki Sauce and Tabbouleh salad. So delicious!
What are Dolma?
The word Dolma comes from the Turkish “Dolmark,” which means “to be filled” and refers to stuffed dishes such as stuffed eggplant, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, and stuffed grape leaves. Dolma, also referred to as dolmades, are possibly the most popular dish in the Balkans and Mediterranean.
All Greek and Mediterranean restaurants serve stuffed grape leaves and you’ve probably spotted them in containers at your local grocery store deli counter. But they can be pricey. Today I’m showing you how to make them at home – they’re easier than you might think!
Ingredients for stuffed grape leaves
You’ll find many variations of stuffed grapes leaves, some with meat, some vegetarian. In this recipe, the grape leaves are filled with rice, ground beef, sautéed onion, fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, and mint), and spices (cumin, salt, and pepper), then steamed in water with a hint of lemon. Served with my favorite Tzatziki sauce as an appetizer, or with Tabbouleh as a meal, they are wonderful!
Where to Find Grape Leaves?
Many grocery stores carry brined grape leaves in their ethnic food section or pickle aisle. I usually use grape leaves by Reese, sold in an 8-ounce glass jar.
- Substitute some of the ground beef with ground turkey, or use half beef and half lamb.
- Make Dolmades vegetarian, by omitting the meat and adding 1/2 cup more rice.
- Experiment with different herbs and spices. If you don’t like cilantro, use parsley. Mint not your thing? Leave it out. Try adding in a little oregano, thyme, allspice, or garlic for a different flavor.
- Some stuffed grape leaves include dried currants and/or pine nuts, which add a little sweetness or nuttiness.
Tips for making this Dolma recipe
- Rinse the rice in water. You’ll want to rinse the rice well to get rid of excess starch, which makes rice sticky. We do not want sushi-style rice, for these dolma.
- Don’t over stuff the grape leaves. The rice expands as it cooks and if you stuff them too much, they can burst.
- Make sure when you roll the grape leaves, they’re snug. If they’re not rolled tightly, they can easily come undone while cooking (also keeping in mind to leave a little room for expansion, as mentioned above ^^ so the rice cooks properly, but the rolls don’t pop.)
- When cooking the dolmas, line the pan with grape leaves to prevent the leaves from burning.
- Cook the grape leaves seam-side down. This helps prevent them from unwrapping.
- Place an inverted plate on top of the assembled grape leaves, while cooking. This helps them stay covered in water, which keeps them moist and also prevents them from floating around and coming unwrapped.
- Simmer, don’t boil. When cooking the dolmas, keep the water at a gentle simmer, but don’t boil, which could cause them to either burst or unravel.
- Let cooked dolma rest a bit before serving, which allows excess liquid to be absorbed and the leaves to set.
Yes, there are multiple steps, but don’t be intimated. Each step is quite easy and broken down to make assembly and cooking very manageable. Once you make a couple batches, you’ll fly through the process. Also fun to gather up some friends and make them together!
Are Stuffed Grape Leaves served warm or cold?
Greek dolmas (without meat) are usually eaten at room temperature or slightly chilled, while dolmas with meat are enjoyed warm. But you can enjoy either both ways – they are so versatile. Serve them for dinner with a side of Tabbouleh and naan, or as an appetizer with a side of Tzatziki sauce.
How to store Dolmas
Dolmas can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
You can also freeze them. Once they are cooked and cooled, freeze for up to 1 month in an airtight container. Thaw them completely in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
Got leftover grape leaves? You can preserve any grape leaves that you didn’t use by freezing them in an airtight freezer-safe bag. Their quality can hold up this way for about 1 month. Once thawed, keep them refrigerated and use them within 3 days.
What to Serve with Stuffed Grape Leaves
Dolmas are such great finger food and hold up very well. They’re so beautiful on a platter, making them great for dinner parties, weddings, luncheons, and also picnics!
Watch the video for Dolmas
Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
- 25-30 grape leaves , plus more to line the pan
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 5 tablespoons arborio rice , partially cooked and rinsed
- 1 medium sweet onion , minced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small bunch cilantro , chopped
- 10 large basil leaves , chopped
- 10 medium mint leaves , chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- salt and black pepper , to taste
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 cups water (or more depending on the size of your pan)
- Take grape leaves out of the jar, and rinse well. Remove stems. Set torn leaves aside to line the pan later.
- To partially cook rice, add rice and 2/3 cups of water to a small pan. Bring to a boil and let simmer 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a sieve and rinse.
- Add butter and vegetable oil to a medium pan over medium high heat. When butter is melted add onion and cook, stirring, until translucent and just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly.
- In a large bowl, combine beef, cooked onion, rice, chopped herbs, cumin, salt, and pepper.
- On a clean working surface, place a grape leaf shiny side down. Put about 2 tablespoons of the beef/rice mixture in the middle of the leave, closer to the stem. Fold the bottom part of the leaf, covering the filling. Then fold two sides over and roll the leaf up. Repeat with all the remaining leaves and filling.
- Line a large pan with grape leaves. Put dolmas on top, close to each other. (You can make two layers if needed.) Add water to barely cover dolmas. (2 cups if using an 11-inch pan.)
- Add a pinch of salt.
- Place an inverted plate or a smaller lid on top of the dolmas to prevent them from floating and unwrapping.
- Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to a gentle simmer for 60-75 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let stand for 15-30 minutes.
- Serve dolmas with my homemade Tzatziki sauce and enjoy!
- Read through the entire article for tips, recipe variations, and storage.
- Watch the video for help!