If you’re looking for a vegetarian grape leaves dolma recipe, you are in the right place. If you want to know how to make the traditional stuffed grape leaves dolma with minced meat, you are still in the right place but you’ll just have to mosey on over to an earlier post called: From Ghoreh to Grape to Dolma | A Food Odyssey.
What are Dolmas?
Dolma refers to a genre of dishes made with vegetables or fruits that are stuffed with fillings. Vegetable dolmas like tomato, bell peppers, or eggplants; fruit dolmas like stuffed quince (so yummy) or stuffed apples; leafy dolmas like stuffed cabbage leaves or stuffed grape leaves.
Stuffed grape leaves dolma (دلمه برگ مو) is a dish that has been popular forever in the Middle East and Mediterranean countries, with each culinary culture bringing its own variations on stuffings and seasonings.
History of Dolma in Iran
The Iranian species of dolma (here in Iran it is pronounced “dolmeh”) has been traced to at least the 17th century — and the culinary diary of a 19th century Qajar king’s head chef records dolma varieties such as vine leaves, cabbage leaves, cucumbers, eggplants, apples, and quinces stuffed with ground meat, sauteed mint, rice, and saffron. [Wiki]
Continuing on till modern times, dolma’s popularity endures as a beloved genre and staple of Persian food and Persian home cooking culinary culture.
Fresh or Preserved Grape Leaves?
Freshly harvested grape leaves which taste more fresh and vibrant would be your best option. I mean, obviously.
Fresh grape leaves are in season from May throughout early summer. After that, the leaves are too “old” and turn too stringy and tough for dolma. In Iran, grape leaves are stacked in a pile and you can’t cherry-pick the leaves, but if your market allows you to pick and choose, make sure to pick a fairly even-sized batch of sweet tender leaves that have led an innocent and blemish-free life.
If you can’t use freshly harvested grape leaves, I personally can’t stand canned leaves –that tin can after taste? NOPE! — but jarred grape leaves could potentially work fine. As long as:
- They are made by a brand you trust (I Googled “jarred grape leaves best buying guide” and got this link, just FYI) &
- You properly prep the preserved leaves as explained in the recipe directions.
Opened jars stored in the fridge with enough juice to cover them could last around two months. But why in the world would you want to do that? You know that jar of leaves will sit lurking in the fridge brooding its neglected fate till you finally notice it’s gone bad and then you’ll toss it out.
Ideally, make enough stuffing to use up all the leaves all at once. You can use up some of the leaves to cover the serving platter and then arrange the dolmas on top of it — which is a traditional food-styling touch in Persian cuisine.
Does the Shape of Dolma Matter?
Recipe yields approximately 30 stuffed grape leaves.
- 1/2 pound fresh grape leaves
- 2 cups rice (cooked till al dente)
- 1 cup split pea (cooked till al dente)
- 2 1/2 cups of fresh fragrant herbs (I used basil, mint, savory, dill and parsley); or if you don’t have fresh herbs use 1 cup of dried fragrant herbs mixture
- 1 -large onion (finely chopped)
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste (more or less to taste)
- turmeric, salt & pepper (seasoning to taste)
- Mix 1 1/2 cup water, 1 cup lemon juice, 4 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 cup of oil for the marinade
How To Prep Grape Leaves
How to Make the Dolma Filling
Cook rice as you would normally but remove from heat once rice grains are al dente. Add a bit of turmeric to the rice while cooking to enhance the color of the filling.
Rinse split peas and soak in water for an hour. Cook till al dente.
Coarsely chop the fresh herbs. I used a mixture of fresh savory, mint, basil, dill, and parsley. In a pinch, you can use just a mix of mint and basil or even just mint by itself. The main thing is that some fresh fragrant herbs should be mixed in with the rice and split peas for the stuffing.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil till sizzling then add the onion. Season with salt and turmeric. Cook over medium heat for about 6-8 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent, but not browned.
Add rice, split peas & raisins, mix well & saute for a couple of minutes.
Now add the fresh herbs, stir to mix & continue to cook for a few minutes. As a final touch add tomato paste and mix well. Remove from heat. This is your filling mixture. You are now ready to fill and wrap the grape leaves.
How To Wrap the Grape Leaves
Place a leaf, smooth side down (veiny side up) with the tip of the leaf pointing towards you on a clean working surface. Place about one tablespoon of filling in the center of the leaf, wrap the leaf from corner to corner around it to make a tight bundle. Continue till you’ve wrapped all the leaves.
I also have posted how-to video demos on my Instagram’s “highlights” saved as “Dolma” as a visual reference.
Arrange in a Pot & Add the Marinade
Line a large pot with a layer of grape leaves. Arrange the stuffed grape leaves tightly, flap-down, next to each other in the pot. Once the bottom layer is full, arrange the second layer of stuffed grape leaves on top of it — like a pyramid.
Once all the grape leaves are placed in the pot, add the marinade mix of lemon juice, water, sugar and oil to the pot. Tip: Place a plate on top of the dolmeh to keep everything in place and close the pot’s lid. Cook on low-medium heat for an hour or two or longer till dolmeh is thoroughly cooked.
Simmering the stuffed grape leaves with the lemon and sugar mixture gives the dolma a brilliantly tangy tart & sweet flavor that is a killer.
How To Serve Stuffed Grape Leaves
If you have any grape leaf leftovers, use them to layer the serving plate as a decorative touch. This is a very traditional serving style in Iran. Arrange cooked stuffed grape leaves in the tray layered next to and top of each other.
Stuffed grape leaves can be served as an appetizer or as a main dish.
Dolmas are generally served warm, but they are also delicious when cold.
Serve with yogurt and some bread. YUM!