If you’ve ever found yourself at a gathering where a tray of dolmades (or dolmas) makes an appearance, you know they’re often the first to disappear. But have you ever thought of making them at home? Before you shake your head thinking it’s too complicated, let me assure you: crafting your own Greek stuffed grape leaves is both doable and fun.
Dolmades, known by various names across Greece and the Middle East, are bite-sized bundles of joy filled with rice, herbs, and often a surprise element like pine nuts or dried currants.
They are perfect for sharing at family get-togethers, picnics, or just a cozy dinner for two. So, roll up your sleeves (and your grape leaves), and let’s dive into a recipe that is as fun to make as it is to eat.
Dolmadakia: One Dish, Many Names
Stuffed grape vine leaves have a centuries-old history, and their origins are a topic of delicious debate. Some culinary historians trace them back to Turkey, calling them “Dolma,” a term that actually extends to various stuffed vegetables. Others argue that they originated in Greece, where they are commonly known as “Dolmades” or “Dolmadakia” for the petite, bite-sized versions.
These stuffed leaves are popular beyond Greece and Turkey. In the Middle East, they’re known as “Warak Enab,” often with a meaty filling. In the Balkans, they go by “Sarma,” and in Sephardic Jewish cuisine, you’ll find them as “Yaprakes de Parra
Regardless of where they originated or what you call them, one thing is clear: dolmades are insanely delicious and our recjle for Greek dolmades is better than any store-bought versions.
Here is Why This Dolmades Recipe Works
Dolmades are more than just stuffed vine leaves; they’re little bundles of joy that open up a world of flavors with each bite. Wrapped in tender grape vine leaves, these Mediterranean delights offer a medley of flavors and textures that will make you wonder where they’ve been all your life.
- Balanced Flavors and Textures: The dolmades have a delicious mix of textures and flavors that really hit the spot! The soft rice, the nutty crunch of pine nuts, along with the the zesty lemon, herbs, and currants come together to create a deliciously balanced and mouth-watering dish. It’s seriously drool-worthy!
- Make-Ahead Friendly: One of the great things about this dolmades recipe is that you can make it in advance. The flavors improve after they’ve had time to mingle in the fridge.
- Versatility: You can serve these dolmas as an appetizer, snack, or a main dish. They’re perfect for a dinner party, picnic, or just a casual night in.
- Make-Ahead Convenience: These dolmades taste even better after a day or two in the fridge, making them the perfect make-ahead dish. You can prepare them well in advance and enjoy a stress-free mealtime.
How to Make Traditional Greek Dolmades
If you have access to freshly picked grape leaves that will be wonderful. Nothing beats freshly picked! They will need to be washed and blanched in boiling water for several minutes before using. We are not that fortunate and have resorted to a jar of preserved grape leaves. But all is well; they are delicious!
Preserved grape leaves are packed in a jar of salty brine. Not all of them are the same. Some manufacturers will pack the leaves with short stems attached. If your jar of leaves has the stems left on, use your kitchen scissors to snip them off.
Preserved grape leaves are delicate and need a little TLC. Give them a two-minute blanch in hot water to loosen them up and rinse off the salty brine. Then a dousing in cold water to separate them. The leaves are tender and will tear if not careful. Place the leaves on layers of paper towels to drain.
I have to tell you….separating the leaves has to be the most time-consuming part of this entire recipe for dolmades. Pour yourself a glass of wine, be patient and persevere!
Preparing the Pot for the Stuffed Leaves Recipe
The dolmades will need to simmer in the broth for one hour. To prevent the bottom layer from burning, add a layer of grape leaves which will serve as a cushion. If you are using fresh grape leaves, I imagine you will have enough leaves available. Make a layer of leaves on the bottom of a Dutch oven, French braiser or a heavy bottomed pot.
Most of our readers will be relying on the jar of preserved leaves for this traditional Greek recipe. Use the reserved torn, small and unusable leaves to line the cooking pot, plus enough extra leaves to make a layer. Don’t want to dedicate those precious leaves for the cushion layer? No problem. Here are a few suggestions that can substitute for that thick leaf layer:
- Stove-top heat diffuser
- Inverted plate
- A folded pad of parchment paper
The idea is to keep the rolls of stuffed grape leaves directly off the bottom of the pot. We used a stove-top heat diffuser in our recipe. We placed the diffuser inside the braiser and covered it with a thin layer of leaves. In the past, we have folded several layers of parchment paper as a cushion.
The Stuffing for the Dolmas
We like to eat these vegetarian Greek dolmades cold with olive oil, lemon wedges, and a yogurt dip. The stuffing in these dolmades leaves is tangy from the lemon juice, a crunch from the toasted pine nuts and a sweetness from the dried currants.
- Sauté the onions in olive oil.
- Add the rice to the onions.
- Stir in lemon juice to partially cook the rice. (During the final cooking process, the rice in the dolmades will become tender.)
- Once the onions and rice mixture cools, stir in fresh herbs, currants, and toasted pine nuts.
How to Roll Dolma Grape Leaves
You can do this! If you can roll up a burrito, you can make these Greek dolmades. The method is pretty much the same.
- Place one of the leaves on a flat work surface, dull side up, with the stem end facing you.
- Scoop a portion of the stuffing and place it near the stem end at the bottom of the leaf.
- Turn up the stem-end to partially cover the stuffing.
- Fold over each side of the leaf to enclose the stuffing—think of it as folding a burrito.
- Starting at the stem end, roll away from you, forming it into a compact cylinder.
How Long to Cook Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves
As you roll the grape leaves, arrange them in the prepared cooking pot side-by-side in one layer. They should be snug but not squeezed tight. You can add another layer if needed. Two layers at the most!
- Place the rolled dolmades in the pot and pour water or broth over the bundles. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.
- Place an inverted dinner plate over the dolmades, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer.
- When the dolmades finish cooking, remove them from the heat and allow them to cool. Drain the excess liquid.
- Transfer the dolmades to a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until time to serve.
Frequently Asked Questions
The terms “dolmas” and “dolmades” both refer to stuffed grape leaves, but they come from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. “Dolmas” is the term used in Turkish cuisine, while “dolmades” is the term more commonly used in Greek cuisine. Many people use the terms interchangeably.
While the basic concept is the same, regional variations can affect the ingredients and preparation methods. For example, Greek dolmades often include herbs like dill and mint, and they may also include pine nuts and raisins or currants.
Yes, dolmades are often considered a finger food you can eat them with your hands, especially when served as an appetizer or part of a meze platter.
Perfect for Your Next Party
You can make these dolmades several days in advance. They will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Include them on your party appetizer tray and serve them cold or room temperature with lemon wedges and a tangy yogurt dip.
These little dolmades are perfect for a party. You may also want to try our chicken stuffed dolmades or our lamb dolmades.
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More Greek Recipes from Savor The Best:
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- 1 jar (16 oz) preserved grape leaves
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 cups finely chopped onions
- 1 cup medium-grain white rice, rinsed
- 3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 cups chopped fresh dill
- 1 cup chopped fresh mint
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, rough chopped
- 1/4 cup dried currents or raisins
- 1/2 fresh lemon
- 2 cups chicken, vegetable broth or water
For the grape leaves:
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Drain the liquid from the jar of preserved grape leaves and remove them from the jar. Unroll the leaves and drop them into the hot water. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5-8 minutes, then drain them in a colander and plunge them into a pan of cold water to cool them.
- Gently separate the leaves and spread them on paper towels to drain. If the leaves have stems, clip them off with kitchen scissors. You will need about 50 or 60 leaves for the stuffing.
- Reserve any torn or small unusable leaves for lining the cooking pot.
Prepare the cooking pot:
- Using a Dutch oven, braiser or heavy-bottomed pan, arrange the reserved torn grape leaves plus enough additional leaves to create a layer on the bottom of the pan. This is to keep the stuffed grape leaves from burning during the cooking process. (See Notes) Set the prepared pot aside while you make the filling.
- In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 4 or 5 minutes until they are soft and transparent.
- Add the rice and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes to coat the rice grains with the oil. Do not let the rice get brown. Pour in the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 8-10 minutes or until all the liquid gets absorbed. The rice will be only partially cooked at this point but will finish cooking during the final cooking. Do not over cook the rice or it will be mushy after the final cooking.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and allow it to cool, then stir in the dill, mint, pine nuts and currants.
To Fill and Roll the Grape Leaves:
- Spread the grape leaf flat, dull side up and place a portion (See Notes) of the filling on the center of the leaf. Turn up the stem end of the leaf, covering the filling.
- Fold over each end to enclose the filling. Beginning again at the stem end, roll it gently but firmly into a compact cylinder. The surface of the leaf will cling together to hold the grape leaf in shape.
- Place the stuffed grape leaf, seam side down, in the prepared pot. Continue with the rolling process until all the leaves are filled or the filling is gone. Keep the stuffed grape leaves snug, side-by-side but not squeezed tight as they will expand as they cook. You can add another layer if needed.
To Cook the Stuffed Grape Leaves:
- Pour the broth or water into the pot. The water should almost cover the stuffed grape leaves, add more liquid if necessary. Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil over the stuffed grape leaves and squeeze in the juice from the 1/2 lemon. Place an inverted dinner plate over the stuffed grape leaves.
- Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with its lid and immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 40-45 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and crack the lid slightly. Allow it to cool down to room temperature. Drain any remaining liquid from the pot, then transfer to a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Serve with lemon wedges and yogurt sauce.
- Do not over-fill the grape leaves as they will expand during cooking and may split.
- To prevent scorching or burning the stuffed grape leaves, first line the bottom of the pot with grape leaves to cushion them. If you do not have enough leaves for this, use folded parchment paper or a stove-top heat diffuser.
- The inverted plate will keep the stuffed grape leaves from unrolling.
- Make these stuffed grape leaves a day or two in advance as the flavors improve after refrigerated.
- Bring the dolmas to room temperature before serving.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 6 dolma
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 234Total Fat: 12.8gSaturated Fat: 1.7gSodium: 572mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 2.3gSugar: 3.6gProtein: 3.5g