Dolmas, from the Turkish verb “to stuff”, are the culinary legacy of the mighty Ottoman Empire. Dolmas form part of the meze or hors d’oeuvres menu of the eastern Mediterranean.
The precursor to dolmas is thought to be the Greek thrion” a fig leaf stuffed with sweetened cheese. Dolmas can be found in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, the Middle East, Albania, Armenia, Iraq, and Iran.
Dolmas are very versatile; they can be eaten cold or warm. Traditionally dolmas containing meat are eaten warm with a yogurt sauce that is lightly flavored with garlic.
Rice filled dolmas are served cold with a drizzling of lemon juice and olive oil. Dolmas usually have a combination of spices that are both savory and aromatic, a culinary practice of Arab origins.
Rolling your dolmas takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be on a roll. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun. Now, to get your dolmas looking even make a guide with a piece of paper towel. Pretty easy!
So, how old could dolmas be? Well, grape cultivation is thought to have originated around 6,000 B.C. in the Near East. By 1700 B.C. King Hammurabi had established the parameters for wine trade. Somewhere along the way grapes reached the southern Mediterranean via the Greek and Phoenician traders.
When cooking your dolmas, make sure you line the pan with some grape leaves to keep them from burning. Also, weigh them down with a plate, this way they will not move around in the skillet. After working so hard to roll these babies, you don want all that hard work to unravel, literally.
By the way, if you are able to pick your own grape leaves, make sure you do so when the leaves are young. We live in the middle of a vineyard. A few years ago, my daughter decided to make dolmas using the leaves from our vineyard. This was in July! The leaves were hard and rough. We didn’t know any better then. A few months later I found out through a Middle Eastern friend that we should have picked the leaves in May. Lesson learned!
Dolmas are both healthy and delicious and will add an international flair to your next appetizer party.
- To make the sauce: Mix olive oil, sugar and lemon.
- In a bowl place cooked rice, currants, mint, parsley, and allspice. Mix well.
- In a small skillet saute the onions and pine nuts in the olive oil until onions are translucent. Remove from skillet and add to rice mixture. Mix well.
- Rinse grape leaves and pat dry.
- Place leaf flat on a large cutting board.
- Place a heaping teaspoon of the rice mixture near the bottom of the leaf.
- Fold the bottom of the leaf over the rice, and bring the sides inwards following the guide you created.
- Roll tightly to form a cigar shape.
- Place seam side down in a skillet lined with the grape leaves.
Pour olive oil sauce mixture and water over the dolmas, and weigh down with a plate.
- Cover and cook on low for about 40 minutes.
- Allow dolmas to cool in the pan.
- Transfer to a serving platter and refrigerate for about 2 hours before serving.