I've always loved dolmas - they're such a healthy and delicious finger food to take to a picnic or to add to a collection of mezedhes spread around the table. In the past, I used to just grab a plastic container of pre-made dolmas at the grocery store. One day I looked at them and realized three things; one, these are pretty expensive. Two, I could probably make my own rather easily at a much lower cost. Three, homemade ones probably taste much better. I was right, and I've been making my own dolmas ever since.
The word "dolmas" means "stuffed" and can refer to stuffed grape leaves, stuffed eggplant, or stuffed peppers. In this post, I'm talking about the rolled grape leaves filled with rice and/or meat. Note about the grape leaves: I bought the kind packed in brine and stored in a jar at my local grocery store in the "international foods" section. If you can't find these at your local grocery store and if there aren't any Middle Eastern or Greek markets near you, don't fret. They can be ordered online. Click here to see various choices and prices for grape leaves in jars. If you happen to grow grapes or have access to fresh grape leaves, you can preserve your own grape leaves using this recipe.
Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmas)
Serves 8 people.
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
3 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. dried currants or raisins
2 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 tbsp. fresh chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp. dried dill weed
1 tsp. ground mace
1 tbsp. ground sumac
2 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1 8-oz jar grape leaves
Ground beef or ground lamb - cook lightly as they will be cooked more during the steaming process.
Chopped and sauteed zucchini
Chopped and sauteed eggplant
Chopped preserved lemons
In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add onions & garlic. Sweat the onions & garlic until tender, then add the mushrooms and saute until browned. Add the rice and enough hot water to cover. Cover the saucepan and simmer over low heat until the rice is half cooked, about 15 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, carefully remove the grape leaves from the jar without ripping them. Drain the liquid and rinse the leaves in warm water and set in a colander to drain. Trim off any stems.
When the rice is ready, stir in all the other ingredients and mix well. Allow the mixture to cool enough so that it can be handled with bare hands. Take one grape leaf and place it smooth side down, veiny sides up. Place about 1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon (depending on how big the leaf is) of rice mix at the bottom of the leaf. Fold the sides and then roll the leaf from bottom to top. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Place a steaming rack in a large pot and arrange the dolmas on the steamer. It is OK to stack them. Place enough water at the bottom of the pot to almost reach the bottom layer of dolmas. Cover and simmer over low heat for 35 to 45 minutes, or until rice is totally cooked.
Remove and place on a serving plate. Drizzle with olive oil, and if desired, sprinkle with a little sumac or fresh lemon juice.
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(Images: Kathryn Hill)