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:
- Iraqi Dolma from Hungry Paprikas
- Greek Dolmades Recipe from My Greek Dish
- The Best Dolma Recipe from Seven Spice Life (Youtube)
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.
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
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!
Didn’t change a thing, wouldn’t change a thing! Best dolmas I’ve ever had.
They came out better than I expected! I did have some difficulty getting them out of the pot nice and neat. I think I wrapped them a little bit too loose which made them more difficult to work with once cooked. I wish they were a tiny bit more dry cause they seemed almost soggy to me (again may have been my loose wrapping!) I feel like they’re missing something I just can’t quite figure out what! My mother would make these with lamb regularly so I’m glad I found a good vegan version!!! I’ll be having my dolma loving family members try these out and see what they have to say!:)
Good recipe. I cook for only two people so I had to modify. I used 1/4 of all ingredients except the grape leaves. I used 10 grape leaves. I also added an additional teaspoon of fresh chopped mint and 1 tablespoon of currants. Easy to prepare. Careful not to overcook the rice filling. I cooked for 20 to 25 minutes.
How much filling goes into the leaves? Tablespoon or so?
Yes just about 1-2 Tablespoons depending on the size of the leaves
Would I be able to use brown rice? Would that take a longer cooking time?
You could probably do that, but it would take some testing to get the proper cooking time. Brown rice does take longer to cook and usually more liquid as well.
Was hesitant to try this, loved the picture guides. Found it to be a Greek version of tamale making! Very easy to follow the recipe and lots of compliments for the results. Plan to make it again this weekend, and to make it a regular in my routine. Times of preparation and cooking were exactly right. VERY pleased with this overall.
How many in a serving?
Three dolmas per serving.
Where is the “bottom” of the leaf — the lower part of either lobe or just above both lower lobes on the lower part of the middle of the leaf?
I like the way you gerry-rigged the plates to weigh the dolmas down. I’m always using makeshift solutions for new recipes but this is the first recipe I’ve ever read that was so clear about the problem and the solution.
The lower part of each lobe that extends down past where the stem would attach. :)
The must be balanced for 3 or 4minutes and cooled in cold water only young rress leaves must be used .
I have grape vines in my yard with tons of leaves. How would I do this recipe differently with freshly picked raw grape leaves?
I’m sorry, I’ve never used fresh grape leaves, so I’m not sure.
You just have to clean them (make sure there’s no white spots which are very common) and boil them until soft.☺️
Wash the freash leaves well, soak in water a few days then soak in a good REAL olive oil for a day, now ready to roll.
This is my tried and true dolma recipe! Low oil, super lemony, and incredibly addicting. I’ve been using this one for several years now. Thank you for this wonderful recipe!!!
This looks great. Do you know if dolmas can be frozen?
That I don’t know… Haven’t tried that yet :)
I always make more than I’d eat and freeze the rest. From my personal experience I’d say it is best to freeze them before cooking though. Cooked dolmas tend to get a bit mushy while defrosting. But by all means you can freeze both cooked and uncooked dolmas.
Thank you! That’s exactly what I wanted to know. I’m excited to try these now.
A tip for cooking dummies like me you want to cut the stems off your leaves and when cooking add a cup of water as you put the pot on the stove. I follow instructions word4word and missed both of these important steps.
You fill the water to the top of the dolma. It states that in the firections
Could you steam them in a bamboo steamer instead of the weighted down pot ?
I love dolmades (proper plural of the singular dolma, btw) and I’ve pretty much perfected a recipe of those made with meat. I lived in Greece for a while and this impressed my Greek friends and family as well as my American friends (who can be a bit picky and were hesitant about eating grape leaves) when I returned.
The filling should be 1 lb of ground lamb, 1 lb of ground beef (you can use all lamb if the price doesn’t bother you but using all beef just doesn’t give the same flavor), 1 cup of parboiled rice (so that it doesn’t expand when cooking), 1 chopped onion, juice of two lemons, then chopped fennel, parsley, dill, and mint (I usually eyeball this but you want at least a couple springs each), then salt and pepper. Mix it all together with your hands and if it looks like it’s having trouble staying together, add an egg for binding. Leave mixture raw and then roll the leaves! Cook as stated in the above recipe (~35 min). If you have more meat mixture than leafs (which may happen if you buy a small jar), you can either stick the mixture in a pan and cook it, or roll the remaining up into Greek meatballs (aka keftedes).
If you want to be authentic, serve with some avgolemono sauce. Take an egg or two depending on the size and beat them. Take small spoons of the juice left over from the delicious dolmades you just made and add it in SLOWLY. We’re tempering the eggs here and don’t want them to end up scrambled. Keep whisking and adding broth until you’ve got a nice sauce (this usually takes around a cup of broth). Add more lemon juice if necessary. Serve as a dipping sauce or pour over the dolmades (and/or keftedes).
I believe you have missed the point of this recipe… Many variations from various regions of the world exist. Did you mean to say the filling “should” be, or were not correcting the author and simply trying to share another version?
I am of Greek descent, and this recipe is wonderful for budget friendly vegans. It is not inauthentic, either.
Wow chill Laura.