Dolmas, from the Turkish verb “to stuff“, are the culinary legacy of the mighty Ottoman Empire. They form part of the meze or hors d’oeuvres menu of the eastern Mediterranean.
Dolmas history and background:
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. How old are dolmas? Well, grape cultivation likely 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.
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 can be tricky
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. This is my trick to getting them all the same size. Pretty easy!
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.
Step by step photos:
- Gather all your ingredients and have them measured, chopped and ready to go. As the French say “mise en place” put everything in place when you start.
- To make the sauce, whisk together the olive oil, sugar and lemon juice.
- In a large bowl place the cooked and cooled white rice, currants, mint, parsley and allspice. Mix this well.
- In a skillet sauté the onions and pine nuts in olive oil until the onions are translucent.
- Add the onions and pine nuts to the rice mixture. You can do this right from the pan as you do not need to let the onions cool.
- Rinse and pat dry the grape leaves. Place each grape leaf spread out on a cutting board or paper towel and place a heaping teaspoon near the bottom of the leaf.
- Fold up the bottom lower parts of the leaf.
- Fold the outer parts of the leaf toward the center and then roll.
- Place the rolled leaves seam side down in a pan that has been lined with grape leaves to prevent the bottom dolmas from burning.
- Pour the sauce over the dolmas.
- Pour the water over the dolmas.
- Place a plate over the dolmas to hold them in place while simmering. Cover and cook on low for about 50 minutes. Allow them to cool in the pan and then chill for about 2 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
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!
Frequently asked questions:
- How long can I store the cooked dolmas? You can store them refrigerated in a sealed container for 3-4 days for the best quality.
- Can I freeze dolmas? Yes, once they are cooked and cooled you can place them in airtight containers and freeze them for 1-2 months. Thaw them completely in the refrigerator.
- How do I store the leftover grape leaves that I do not use? The best way to preserve any leave remaining leaves is to freeze them in airtight freezer bags. When stored like this they will maintain a good quality for 1-2 months. Once thawed, keep them refrigerated and use them within 3-4 days.
Your Next Appetizer Party
Dolmas are both healthy and delicious and will add an international flair to your next appetizer party. If you want to include more Turkish recipes at your next gathering here are some of my favorites that are easy to make. Bookmark them for a later date or pin them on Pinterest.
Pair your dolmas with a Mediterranean Orzo Salad for a nice, light summer meal.
Talas kebabi are a Turkish spicy meat filed puff pastry with mint that have such a unique flavor you have to try them.
Portakal salatsi is a Turkish orange an onion salad with olive that has a really nice blend of sweet and savory flavors.
A nice mezze dish enjoyed by the Turks is ezeme; a spicy pepper salsa type dish with cayenne, honey and cinnamon.
If you want something on the vegetarian side try these chickpea burgers: nohutlu mücver.
Dolmas - Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe
- 2/3 c olive oil
- 1 tsp sugar
- 4 Tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed
Make rice according to package instructions. Cool to room temperature before using.
- 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 50 minutes.
- Allow dolmas to cool in the pan.
- Transfer to a serving platter and refrigerate for about 2 hours before serving.