Dolma is a refreshing finger food that is really perfect for parties or as an appetizer prior to a meal. These are lovely small packages of edible leaves rolled around a filling of items such as grains, vegetables, fruits (tomatoes), nuts, herbs, spices, and sometimes ground meat. Most notably, the young leaves of grapevines are stuffed with a lemony mixture of rice, onion, and minced lamb or beef. This is a common and authentic preparation in the Middle East and Greece. Brined grape leaves can be found in specialty stores sealed in glass jars. This is a vegetarian recipe, but you can always add chicken, shrimp or beef if you like.The stuffed packets are slow cooked or braised in a simmering liquid that is often infused with fresh lemon and a hefty drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The result is a perfect 2 or 3 bite roll of the best of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors.
I prefer a vegetarian adaptation of this dish. It is so juicy, especially on a humid summer evening when guests are stopping by. Dolma can be prepared ahead of time and are best eaten cold or at room temperature. They transport easily if you are going to a picnic. They can also sit on a table for a couple of hours without spoiling. Dolma stuffed with minced meat can be served warm with a lemon sauce as part of a main meal.
Variations and Tips
My recipe includes vegetables and fruits, such as onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. There are also herbs, such as parsley and garlic. Of course, there is a grain component, such as quinoa, as well as spices. I am old school and use the authentic grape leaves as my wrapper.
If you don’t have exactly what my recipe calls for, feel free to make some substitutions. Grape leaves are not on every grocery store shelf. It is perfectly fine to use collard greens that have been blanched to soften them. You can remove the center vein and slice them in half if they are super large leaves. You can also substitute Swiss chard leaves. I like grape leaves as they are so flavorful and distinctive to this dish.
Traditional stuffed grape leaves use rice as the grain component. Often this is brown rice. I find quinoa to be a good option. It has a nutty flavor and a lighter texture than rice. You could also try bulgur, millet, or buckwheat groats.
As previously mentioned, there are a variety of vegetables and/or fruits that can be added to the filling. I like tomatoes because they help to keep the dolma moist and juicy. Mushrooms add a meaty texture. Onions bring out the flavor in any dish, in my opinion. It is not uncommon to find dolma with raisins for a little sweetness and toasted pine nuts for texture. If not using brined grape leaves, try adding some caper berries to the filling for a similar flavor. I have even seen dolma with tofu inside.
It is really important that these little bundles are flavorful. That means you need to add some herbs. If you are not a fan of garlic, leave it out. You could use fresh chives instead. Parsley is mild in flavor, but really adds a fresh, brightness to the dish. You could also add fresh mint or dill. Fresh herbs are far better than dried for imparting flavor.
I think you get the idea. Dolma ingredients can vary, depending on what you like and what is in your pantry and fridge. There really aren’t strict rules, which is why these are a great dish to have fun making and experimenting with.
How to Serve Dolma
I always serve dolma at backyard parties. They are just so easy to pick up with your fingers and nosh on. I will usually make a large platter that has a variety of small bites of various foods. My platters will have dolma, olives, pickles, cubes of Middle Eastern cheeses, some cherry tomatoes in different colors, and maybe some radishes. For meat eaters, I will place rolled up pieces of cured hams, such as prosciutto. Or, I will have cooked shrimp on the plate.
While vegetarian dolma are pretty juicy on their own, I will place lemon wedges around the perimeter of the platter. I also like to have either hummus or a tahini dip. These 2 dips go perfectly with dolma and can be quite filling and satisfying. Place a large bowl of pita chips near the platter and dips and you have a meal!
What can I do with those leftover dolma? I personally love to take leftover dolma and slice them into coins and place them on top of a dinner salad. They can be a protein stand-in for a quick weeknight meal.
Don’t be Afraid of the Process
I used to think making dolma was a daunting task. But, it is actually fun, especially if you have helping hands. I enjoy making dolma with my siblings. And, we make lots of them at one time, as they do keep in the refrigerator for several days.
The assembly goes fairly quickly once the filling is prepared. Then, they just go into the pot, weighed down by a plate, and simmer for approximately 45 minutes. You don’t need to tend to the pot while the dolma cook. This is a good time to catch up with my family and maybe enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea.
Ingredients For Dolma Mix:
- Quinoa (1 Cup)
- Rice (Basmati, 1 Cup)
- Parsley (1 Bunch)
- Onions (3 small diced)
- Garlic Cloves (5 minced)
- Tomatoes (1 Cup Chopped)
- Mushrooms (1 Cup Chopped)
- Olive Oil (1/2 Cup)
- Baharat / All Spice (3 Tablespoons)
- Salt and Pepper (1 Teaspoon Each)
- Lemon Juice (1/2 Cup)
Ingredients For Layering, Stuffing and Cooking:
- Grape Leaves (Fresh or in a Jar) (Approximately 20)
- Cabbage (Take about 10 layers and boil for about 30 seconds high heat)
- Carrots (2)
- Celery (4)
- Onions (5)
- Olive Oil (1/2 Cup)
- Lemon Juice (1/2 Cup)
- Watert (1/2 Cups)
- In a large bowl, add the washed rice and quinoa.
- Chop one bunch of parsley and add to the mixture.
- Chop 3 small onions very tiny and add to the mix.
- Mince the garlic and add to the mix.
- Chop tomato and add to the mix.
- Cut up mushrooms and add to the mix.
- Add salt, pepper, and spices to the mixture and blend with your hands.
- Add fresh lemon and olive oil, making sure everything is well blended.
- Now you are done with the stuffing. Set aside and work on the onions.
- In a 10 quart pot, add two table spoons of vegetable oil.
- Then shave carrots and celery and add to the pot. Just organize them in there.
- Peel the onions. Cut the ends of the onions and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt on each end of the onion and set aside for 15 minutes. This process is done so that each layer of the onion opens easier without breaking.
- After 15 minutes, peel and stuff the onions.
- Boil hot water and peel each layer of cabbage and boil for about 30 seconds or until soft enough to fold and stuff. After it cools, you are ready to stuff the cabbage.
- Stuff the grape leaves.
- First layer, as I mentioned is the celery and carrots, then the stuffed onions, then grape leaves and cabbage.
- When you are finished layering, add a stick of butter.
- Then add the lemon juice, water and olive oil.
- Cook on stove top on high heat until it comes to a boil.
- After it comes to a boil, turn to low/medium heat and let it cook for 30-45 minutes.
- When it is done cooking, wait about 30 minutes to an hour before flipping.