Dolma recipe or stuffed grape leaves recipe is so popular in the Mediterranean. Tangy, tender grape leaves wrapped around aromatic rice and cooked to perfection. This old-fashioned recipe is an all-time family and friends favorite. Follow my tips for a foolproof, delicious stuffed grape leaves each time.
Stuffed grape leaves are commonly served as a delicious appetizer. Almost every nation in the region has its own version. I’ve tried so many myself, the Greek, Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish and of course the Egyptian.
Stuffed grape leaves are never complete without tzatziki sauce.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
I love dolma guys, my mom used to make these at least twice a month. It is also there on every occasion and every celebration, you name it. Ramadan, Christmas, wedding parties… etc. One of the most requested recipes by my kids and frankly everyone.
I have to admit, I even tried the store bought varieties too. This tzatziki sauce was photographed with store-bought dolmathes!! Store bought one is often swimming in a slimy oily liquid that my kids hate. Plus the rice is usually mushy and sticky with very tough leaves.
I turn to the store bought only when I am pressed in time and my kids have grape leaves deficiency syndrome :), otherwise, we almost always have a friend making it in our usual gatherings. It is not that I hate making it or it is hard to make, it is just a time-consuming kind of recipe.
I’ve actually timed myself to check it and here is what I’ve found out. This recipes used half a 16oz jar of grape leaves and yielded exactly 60 stuffed leaves and each one took me around 50 seconds to roll!! you do the math.
As I told you you’ll find many versions of this recipe, some stuff it with lamb and rice mixture, others with do it with ground beef and rice like I’ve done with the stuffed onion here. I grew up with a totally vegetarian version that used no meat at all and loads of herbs. Fresh herbs please.
My mom always used fresh grape leaves, it is hard to get those here so we go with the jarred ones. I will show you tips and tricks to soften them up and how to get the most flavor out of it. Do not get intimidated by the fancy look of this recipe, it is really so easy and I am going to show you a foolproof recipe here. As I said before, it just needs time so it might be a good idea to gather kids, friends or family around and roll these for a fun project 😄.
Stuffed Grape Leaves FAQS
Where to buy grape leaves?
Well, if you can grab some fresh from the produce department at your store then this is awesome. Unfortunately for us here in the USA or should I say specifically for Colorado, these are super hard to find. It is much easier to get the jarred ones. I always get mine from the International Middle Eastern store .. BUT, recently and to my surprise, I’ve found it at Kroger’s stores as well.
If you do not have any of the above options we always have AMAZON. I will link it at the end of the post.
What is the name for stuffed grape leaves?
Nobody really knows for sure the exact origin of this recipe and I do not want to go into a fight over whether it is Greek, Turkish or from anywhere else. It is delicious and this is what I only care about 🙂. Now let me tell you its name over the region. In Greece it is called dolmathes, dolma in Turkey and in Iraq, dolmeh in Iran and Waraq Einab in most of the Middle Eastern region.
Do you eat stuffed grape leaves hot or cold?
For the most part, and what I grew up doing, is eating it as a part of a bigger meal and it is hot or at least room temperature. Some people serve it cold as ahors d’oeuvres or mezes.
Are stuffed grape leaves bad for you?
Grape leaves are both low in calories and high in fiber. They also have high amounts of vitamin A and vitamin K. They have a very high antioxidant content. In fact, research suggests that grape leaves have ten times the antioxidant activity of grape juice or pulp.
What really matter is what you stuff in there, for the herbs and spices they are full of nutrients and vitamins.Rice is… you know rice, gluten free but not carb free 😇. Add meat for more protein or scroll to the end of the post as I will list some resources for a carb free dolmas.
Tips for making stuffed grape leaves
These are some tips to get the most “ooohs” and “aaaahs” reactions about your stuffed grape leaves. Note that I am using the jarred grape leaves.
- Jarred varieties tend to be tougher, so it is always recommended to boil them in water with 1 Tablespoon of oil for about 3-4 minutes. Blanch them in batches not all at once though
- Cut off the stems, but do not throw these ways. They have lots of flavor and desirable tartness.
- If the leaf is too big, cut it in half and in some rare cases, thirds.
- For the herbs, I used them all, parsley, dill and cilantro. My dad was one of those people who distastes cilantro, hence my mom barely used them. Some people only use cilantro and parsley, others use only dill. If you have no problems with any of the fresh herbs mentioned above, I highly recommend using them all. The rice should be flavorful and aromatic.
- Unlike me always pushing you to use fresh herbs, I use dried mint. Many people use fresh but I find fresh mint to be overwhelming in this recipe. If you like to go fresh test it for yourself.
- Cut off stems from parsley and other herbs are used in the bottom of the pot to add more flavor and prevent scorching.
- Place a small dessert dish over the stuffed leaves when cooking, this is an ancient tip from the grannies to keep the stuffed grapes firm and in place.
- I grew up to a tart grape leaves, not super tart but tart🤷. So I add lemon juice to the cooking liquid. One of my friends ( a grape leaves expert) adds pomegranate molasses and sometimes tamarind paste instead of lemon juice.
- Lastly, after it is cooked and turn off the heat. Pour 2 very hot tablespoons of ghee, butter or olive oil, cover the pot and let it sink. This step adds shine, flavor and tenderize the leaves even more.
Phew that was long.. so let’s see it in action now.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
- In a sauce pan, boil water with oil then blanch the leaves in batches.
- Take them out and let them cool in a colander until able to handle.
- Cut off the stems and setting them aside, do not throw away.
- In another pot, heat oil and saute onions until translucent.
- Add tomato sauce, paste and stir to combine.
- Add herbs, spices and rice, mix well and cook for just two minutes. Turn heat off and set aside.
- Now lay one leaf smooth side down on a cutting board.
- Take about 1.5 teaspoon of the rice mixture and place at the broad end of the leaf.
- Fold both sides over the rice and roll tucking it nicely as shown above.
- Repeat until you finish the whole amount.
- Lay the stems of the fresh herbs, onions rings or tomato and the stem you cut from the grape leaves at the bottom of your pot.
- Arrange the stuffed grape leaves tightly in layer on the pot.
- Mix your cooking liquid as directed and pour over the grape leaves.
- Cover with a small plate and bring to a boil over medium-high flame.
- Reduce heat to minimum and simmer until thoroughly cooked.
- Turn heat off, remove the small plate and drizzle the hot ghee/butter or olive oil on top. Cover and let it set for 10 minutes before serving.
Best served with tzatziki sauce, so delicious that you’ll not stop eating until the whole platter is gone.
One final note: sticky rice is not our thing!! Yes, it is considered shameful if you made stuffed grapes and the rice inside are not fluffy 😒. Also, my mom, her mom and her mom’s mom always used short grain rice. You are welcome to use Basmati rice if you like but adjust the cooking liquids accordingly.
You May Need
The following are affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Thanks so much for being a part of Amira’sPantry! I like the Orlando Brand jar of grape leaves as I’ve noticed it contains less large leaves than other brands.
If you are watching your carbs or following a keto diet, here is a Paleo Dolmas recipe from Empowered Sustenance.
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- 2 cups short grain rice. note1
- 1 medium yellow onion chopped.
- 1/4 cup olive oil divided.
- 3 Tablespoons tomato paste.
- 1 can 15 oz tomato sauce.
- 1 cup parsley chopped.(note2)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped.(note2)
- 1/3 cup dill chopped.(note2)
- 1 Tablespoon dry mint.
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper.
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste.
- 1/2 pound half a jar preserved grape leaves.
- 2 1/2 cup warm stock or water. See note 3.
- 1 bouillon note2
- 1 1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice.
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste.
- 2 Tablespoons ghee/butter or olive oil.
In a pot over medium-high add about 2 liter of water and 1 Tablespoon olive oil and bring to a boil.
Divide grape leaves into 4 equal parts, add each part to the boiling water let it boil for 3-4 minutes then take it off the water in a colander then add the next part.(note 4)
Let the grape leaves cool before handling.
In a large pot over medium-high heat add the rest of olive oil .
Saute onions until translucent, add tomato sauce and paste stirring them together.
Add rice, spices and herbs cook for just two minutes. Turn heat off and set aside to cool down. (note 5)
Now the leaves should have cooled. Cut off the stems keeping them aside.
Place one leaf smooth side down on a cutting board.
Take about 1.5 teaspoon of the rice mixture and place at the broad end of the leaf.
Fold both sides over the rice and roll tucking it nicely. Repeat with all leaves until they are done.
Place the herb stems, if you have them, tomato slice or onion slices and the grape leaves stems at the bottom of a 4 quart pot. (Note 6).
Arrange stuffed grape leaves in rows leaving no space in between.
In a measuring cup add stock and warm up in the microwave for just 30 seconds. Add tomato paste, lemon juice and dissolve bouillon in the mixture.
Pour the cooking liquids over, and place pot on medium-high.
When it starts to bubble around the sides, reduce heat and place a flat plate over the grape leaves. ( note7)
Cover and let it simmer until fully cooked about 75 to 90 minutes on low flame.
Check for doneness after an hour.
When it is done, heat 2 Tablespoons of ghee until very hot then pour over the grape leaves, cover and let it seep through the whole pot for 10 minutes. ( note 8)
1) I was raised to grape leaves stuffed with short grain rice, some people use Basmati.
2) If you can keep the stems of the fresh herbs, as we will use them as a shield in the bottom of the pot and for more flavors.
3) I’ve used chicken stock and chicken bouillon, you can use vegetable stock if desired.
4) I am using grapes leaves from the jar which is widely available here in the USA rather than the fresh. This kind of grape leaves is usually tougher than the fresh so we kind of soften it first in boiling water to decrease cooking time
5) Do not cook the rice, it will cook in the pot stuffed into the leaves.
6) Fresh herb stems add more flavors to the cooking liquids while the grape leaves stems add a very desirable tartness. Place tomato or onion rings to prevent scorching.
7) This is an all time tip from the grannies to keep the leaves firm and in place.
8) I like using ghee or butter, one of my friends told me she uses olive oil as well. This is done to further soften the leaves and to lend them more flavors.