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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

[Dolmades] Tasty Stuffed Grape Leaves with meat & rice filling

I still remember that I was fascinated by the unknown Turkish person who had first thought of cooking rough and stiff grape leaves, to make edible food. He (or she) must be a genius to come up with this idea using abundant grape leaves. It's not only edible, but also tasty.

 I was wondering how come each of Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt insist that stuffed grape leaves are their own traditional food. 

All these countries have three things in common: first, all these countries border the Mediterranean sea. Second, they all use more or less the same ingredients for their traditional food. And third, historically, all of the countries mentioned here were ruled by Ottoman Empire, i.e. Turkey of today. That must be why the Turkish word Dolma is from the Turkish verb dolmak which means 'to be stuffed'. (reference: Merriam-Webster). Dolmas (or dolmades) are one of the items I always pick at deli, olives & antipasto bars. It's glossy and refreshing at the same time. Gloss must come from meat and refreshingness must be from young mint leaves. When a Greek colleague of mine explained how her mom was making dolmades, it sounded pretty easy and doable. I got suddenly encouraged and decided to make my very own dolmades. Then I used a half jar of grape leaves to make lots of dolmades! It was soooooooo good and delicious. Here goes the recipe for Mediterranean stuffed grape leaves! :)

(adapted from

1/2 jar of large grape leaves in brine (about 30-40 leaves)
8 cups of water
1 pound of lean ground beef
1/2 cup of uncooked short-grain rice, rinsed 
1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, chopped
juice of 1 lemons
1/8 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1 cup of water

1. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot, add juice of 1/2 lemon and the salt. Turn off the heat when boiled, and put 1/2 jarful grape leaves in the pot. You don't need to separate them. 
Leave for 5 minutes before remove and rinse under the running cold water. 
Drain and pat the leaves with kitchen towel.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Sauté the onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until translucent. 

Add rinsed rice and sauté for 3-4 minutes. 

3. In a bowl, combine the onions, ground beef, rice, remaining olive oil, parsley, mint, juice of 1 lemon, and pepper. Mix well.

4. Gently separate one leaf and place it shiny side down on a work surface. Place 1-2 teaspoons of the filling on the leaf at the point where stem joins the leaf. 

Fold up the bottom of the leaf over the filling, then each side inward in parallel folds, 

and roll up the leaf. 

Roll should be firm, but not tight, to give enough space for the filling to expand during cooking. Repeat the steps.

5. To prevent the leaves on the bottom from burning while the filling cooks, place a few layers of damaged grape leaves in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pot. 

Layer the dolmades in the pot, packing them closely together, seam side down. 

6. Add 1 cup of water and cover. Bring the water to a boil. 

Add remaining lemon juice and reduce heat to low, and simmer for 45-50 minutes. 

(Check to see if done)

7. Serve dolmades warm or at room temperature with lemon wedges, tzatziki or Greek yogurt.

Dolmades store well for a few days in the fridge, if there's any left. :)


Dolma - Dolmades


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