Anytime I see these Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves on an appetizer tray, I bee-line straight for them! They are one of my favorite appetizers. These traditional bundles of rice-stuffed grape leaves are known as Dolma or Dolmades.
Stuffed grape leaves have a centuries-old history. There seems to be some question as to where they originated. Some say Turkey; others believe it was Greece. They are found throughout the entire Middle East and have many variations.
Grapes are prevalent in Greece and the leaves are always available to them. We don’t have a grape vineyard in our backyard. But, the preserved grape leaves are available in most grocery stores or online.
HOW WE MADE THESE GREEK STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES (DOLMA):
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 preserved grape leaves are the same though. Some manufacturers will pack the leaves with short stems attached. If your jar of grape 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.
When separating the drained leaves, set aside any torn or small unusable leaves for lining the cooking pot. The leaves will not all be the same size, varying from very small to large. The amount of filling in each dolma will depend on the size of the leaf.
I have to tell you….separating the leaves has to be the most time-consuming part of this entire recipe. Pour yourself a glass of wine, be patient and persevere!
PREPARING THE COOKING POT FOR THE GREEK STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES:
The stuffed grape leaves 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 blog readers will probably be relying on the jar of preserved grape leaves. 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.
MAKE THE STUFFING FOR THE GREEK STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES:
We like to eat these vegetarian Greek stuffed grape leaves cold with olive oil, lemon wedges, and a yogurt dip. The stuffing in these little grape leaf bundles is tangy from the lemon juice, a crunch from the toasted pine nuts and a sweetness from the dried currants.
We sautéed white onions in olive oil and combined it with medium grain rice. Lemon juice was added to partially cook the rice giving that tang to the finished stuffed grape leaves. During the final cooking process, the rice in the grape leaves will finish cooking and become tender. After the onion-rice mixture has cooled, we stirred in the fresh herbs, currants and toasted pine nuts.
HOW TO ROLL THE GREEK STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES (DOLMA):
You can do this! If you can roll up a burrito, you can roll Greek stuffed grape leaves (dolma). The method is pretty much the same.
First, lay a drained grape leaf on a flat work surface, dull side up, stem end toward you. Scoop a portion of the stuffing and place it in the center bottom of the grape leaf, at the stem end. Turn up the stem-end of the leaf, then one at at time, fold over each side….just like a burrito. Next, begin rolling the grape leaf away from you into a compact cylinder. Easy, peasy!
HOW LONG DO THE GREEK STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES COOK?
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!
Once you have all the stuffed bundles arranged in the pot, pour the broth or water over the bundles. The liquid should almost cover them; if it does not, add more of the liquid. Drizzle the bundles with olive oil and squeeze lemon juice over the top.
Place an inverted dinner plate over the stuffed leaves to weigh them down. The plate also keeps them from unrolling as they expand. Bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot with its lid. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes until they are tender. It is important that the pot does not continue to boil but remains at a simmer. Boiling will cause the grape leaves to break apart.
When the stuffed grape leaves have finished cooking, remove them from the heat and allow them to cool down. After they have cooled, drain any remaining liquid from the pot. Transfer the stuffed leaves to a plate, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
WHY NOT MAKE THESE GREEK STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES FOR YOUR NEXT PARTY BASH?
You can make these moist bite-size Greek stuffed grape leaves (dolma) 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 dolma rolls are perfect for a party.
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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 the grape leaf 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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Serving Size6 dolma
Amount Per Serving Calories 234 Total Fat 12.8g Saturated Fat 1.7g Sodium 572mg Carbohydrates 21g Fiber 2.3g Sugar 3.6g Protein 3.5g