One of my favorite things to order when I go to Mediterranean restaurants is Stuffed Grape Leaves or Dolmas. I’ve always shied away from making them at home because they seemed like they would be complicated and a jar of grape leaves is pretty pricey. Since I have a nice week-long break between semesters, I decided to challenge myself with making them to see if they really were all that expensive.
The verdict? Very inexpensive and pretty easy to make! The hardest part was unraveling the “cigar” of rolled-up grape leaves from the jar. The taste was spot on. They were exactly the tangy, herby little bundles of joy that I get from the restaurant. Sure, my rolling technique leaves a bit to be desired but once they’re in your mouth who cares what they look like!
There are many versions of Dolmas out there, some with meat, some without. I usually order the vegetarian kind when I’m out so that’s what I went for here. After looking at a ton of recipes, I decided to work off of this recipe by Emeril Lagasse because it seemed closest to what I’ve eaten before.
I made a few changes, of course, to meet my budgetary needs. First, I nixed the pine nuts and golden raisins because they’re both fairly pricey. Some day when I have some disposable income, I’ll definitely give them a shot, but not today. Also, I decreased the amount of olive oil because, again, it’s pricey. The end result was still fairly oily (as they should be) so decreasing the olive oil didn’t seem to hurt. I still used fresh mint because that is absolutely essential to this recipe. I only used about 1/4 of the pack which cost $1.99 and will be freezing the rest. Mint is excellent in iced tea or even just water… or maybe I’ll make some mint juleps!
Try These Authentic Dolma Recipes
Since the version below has been adapted for my kitchen, please check out these authentic recipes below. You might learn some cool facts about the history and culture behind this delicious dish while you’re at it:
Oh, BTW, you can eat these alone but they are AMAZING when dipped in some cool, creamy Tzatziki.
Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
- 1 jar 40 each grape leaves ($5.99)
- 1 medium yellow onion ($0.25)
- 4 cloves garlic ($0.24)
- 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided ($0.20)
- 1 1/2 cups long grain rice, uncooked ($0.45)
- 6 Tbsp lemon juice, divided ($0.32)
- 1 tsp salt ($0.05)
- 2 Tbsp 1-2 sprigs fresh mint, minced ($0.49)
- Finely dice the yellow onion and mince the garlic. Cook them in a skillet with 2 Tbsp of olive oil over medium/high heat until they are soft and translucent. Transfer them to a mixing bowl to cool.
- Add the rice, mint, salt and 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) of lemon juice to the mixing bowl with the cooked onions and garlic. Stir to combine well.
- Gently unroll/unfold the grape leaves from the jar and lay flat on a clean surface (3 or 4 at a time). Place 1 tsp to 1 Tbsp (depending on the size of the leaf) of rice mix at the bottom near where the stem would attach. Roll the grape leaves by first folding the bottom up, then the right and left sides in then rolling all the way toward the top (see photos below). Do not roll tightly as the rice will expand when the Dolmas cook in the next step. Continue to fill and roll each grape leaf this way.
- As you roll the grape leaves place them in the bottom of a wide pot, seam side down, very close together (see photos below). If you fill the bottom of the pot in a single layer and still have more, you can start a second layer.
- Drizzle the reamaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil and 2 Tbsp of lemon juice over top of the Dolmas in the pot. Fill with water just until the Dolmas are covered. Place a large plate or dish on top of the Dolmas to hold them down and keep them from unraveling as they boil. Place the pot over high heat, bring to a boil then reduce the temperature and simmer until the rice is soft (about 30-40 minutes). Add more water as needed. Gently remove the Dolmas from the pot after cooking. Reserve any left over liquid to be poured over any left over Dolmas while they are stored in the refrigerator.
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How to Make Stuffed Grape Leaves – Step By Step Photos
Cook the diced onions and minced garlic in olive oil until they are soft and translucent.
Let the onions and garlic cool slightly then combine with the uncooked rice, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, salt and minced fresh mint.
Carefully unravel the grape leaves from the jar; they will be tightly stacked and rolled into “cigars”. Place a little bit of rice near the bottom of each one and roll…
To roll the grape leaves, first bring the bottom of the leaf up over the rice filling, then fold in the sides and finish by rolling all the way up to the top of the leaf. The three steps are shown, left to right. Don’t roll tightly, the rice needs room to expand.
Place the Dolmas in the bottom of a pot, seam side down, close together. Make a second layer if needed. Drizzle 2 Tbsp more of olive oil and lemon juice over top. Pour on enough water to cover the dolmas.
Add a large plate, dish or inverted lid on top of the Dolmas to hold them down and keep them from unraveling while boiling. My dinner plates were too large to fit in the pot so I used a small plate for the center, a glass lid for the dolmas around the outside and then I ended up having to put another plate on top of the lid to hold it down. As the water boiled, steam was getting trapped under the lid and lifting it up, which means it was not holding the Dolmas down. The extra plate on top fixed the problem!
Boil the grape leaves until the rice is tender (30-40 min). Serve the Dolmas warm, room temperature or cold and make sure to have a little Tzatziki for dipping!