Greek stuffed grape leaves, aka dolmathes, dolmades, dolma, or dolmadakia are one of the classic recipes of Greek cuisine and made throughout the Mediterranean countries in regional variations. In Arabic-speaking countries, they are called Warek Enab “leaves of grapes”.
They may be served simply with lemon juice squeezed onto them and lemon wedges decorating the plate, but may also be served with an egg-lemon sauce called avgolemono.
Dolmathes, a classic Greek recipe, step-by-step
Made with fresh grape leaves or canned, short grain rice, fresh herbs, onion, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and sometimes with ground meat. Depending on the region, the traditional recipe may be made with either ground beef, pork, or lamb, and goat is also possible. My preference is to make vegetarian stuffed grape leaves, especially as I usually make them for parties.
Fresh vine leaves
If you are using fresh leaves from your own grape vines, pick the most tender grape leaves that are big enough for your purpose. Put them into a bowl, trimming each stem and laying each leaf carefully flat so that they will be easier to separate later. Pour hot water over them and let it soak in for a minute or two, then strain it out and cover the leaves with cold water to cool them for handling.
Canned vine leaves
If the grape leaves were purchased from a grocery store or a farm stand, they will be tightly rolled in stacks and looking like very large dolmas. The leaves are unrolled carefully to avoid tearing, flattened and separated from each other in preparation of filling. It is more efficient to take a few minutes to do this at the beginning than pull them apart one at a time as they are also being filled.
The jars at the left are from my old farm stand. The leaves were Marechal Foch, and collected from Emendare Vineyard, a local winery in the Cowichan Valley. Later this year, I’ll harvest and can some more for off-season use.
Part of a mezze platter or a main course, served cold or warm
Dolmathes are one of those things which look more difficult to make than they truly are, and they are versatile. An elegant main dish paired with a Greek salad, they also make a delicious appetizer. They are an impressive contribution to a potluck and if you arrive at party with a tray of these, you’ll look like a hero. Since presentation is always important, if you are using your own grape leaves cut a length of vine to use as decoration for the tray. They are equally good served warm (never hot) or at room temperature, making them an ideal party food. I love making making Dolmathes for the meditative qualities of the process. A mildly fussy series of simple tasks that when complete leads to a sense of esthetic pleasure…at least for me.
Parcook (partially cook) the mixture of rice before rolling in the grape leaf
The rice mixture is par-cooked before stuffing, and then cooled for handling. The grape leaves are laid, shiny side down on a plate with the stem end towards me (or you). Put a spoonful of filling at the bottom of the leaf, and tuck the round parts at the bottom up to enclose the rice. Fold it upwards away from you, folding the side leaves inward so the rice is contained and roll the dolma tight, placing it seam side down on the bottom of a large pot. Pack the stuffed leaves tightly before adding a second layer
Easily made as a vegan meal
If made without meat or broth, these are vegetarian and if served with lemon wedges instead of the avgolemono sauce, they are also vegan. For vegetarians make the sauce with either water or vegetable stock.
If made with meat, traditional Greek dolmathes are most commonly made with lamb…or possibly goat. They are often made with beef in other countries, but cows have never been a large part of the Greek agropolis. Too many hills.
My family recipe uses currants and raisins, which I exchanged this time for cranberries…because Canada. Next year it will be currants again because we are growing black currants on the farm
- 16 Young Grape Leaves
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Cups Converted Rice
- 1 Spanish Onion Minced
- 1 Bunch Dill Fresh
- 1-2 Tbsp Dried currants or raisins Minced (the family recipe uses currants, but in this case I had used dried cranberries)
- 2 Tbsp Pine nuts Chopped (optional)
- 2 Cups Soup Stock Chicken or vegetable – Divided
- 3 Egg yolks
- 1-2 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/2 Cup Soup Stock Chicken or vegetable
- If using fresh leaves, choose leaves that are big enough (at least 5″ across) to contain a full tablespoon of filling, but young enough to be tender. It’s best to use the scissors to cut the leaves from the vine, as they can be difficult to simply pick and you don’t want to rip the leaves or damage the plant, Pick a few more leaves than you want dolmathes…you will use some to line the pot and it never hurts to have spares.
- Wash the grape leaves in a colander or salad spinner and then lay them flat in a pie plate, shallow soup bowl or other broad flat container with a rim.
- Pour boiling hot water over them, leave them to wilt for a few minutes, then drain. This will make them pliable when you wrap them around the rice mixture. Set the grape leaves aside while you prepare the rice.
- Saute the onion in the olive oil until fragrant and transparent.
- Add the rice, the dill and and the cranberries stirring after each addition until fully coated in the oil.
- Add one of the two cups of stock in the first ingredient group to the rice and cook the rice without stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Turn the heat off and allow the rice to cool a bit for handling.
- When the rice has cooled, place a wilted or preserved grape leaf on a large plate and put a spoonful of filling in the centre of the leaf.
- Begin rolling the dolmathes from the bottom of the leaf, folding the two bottom-most ‘flaps upwards over the filling and folded towards each other.
- Roll the tightly wrapped bottom of the dolma up towards the tip of the leaf.
- Line the rice cooker or saucepan with grape leaves and begin stacking the tightly wrapped dolmas in a circle, fitting the dolmas as tightly as possible.
- Once you have the dolmas in a tightly packed circle, or series of stacked and packed circles, add enough stock or water to cover the entire contents.
- Cover with a plate, then weigh this down to keep the dolmathes from swelling up and bursting. Then, cover the rice cooker and set to cook. When the cooker changes state, set the dolmathes aside while preparing the Avgolemono Sauce.
- Use fresh lemons only for this sauce. The flavour is all about the lemon, so you want the best. To juice one or two lemons, I tend to use a fork or spoon, either of which does a surprisingly good job. If I am juicing many, the best thing is to use an electric citrus juicer. Not much bigger than the standard glass models and they get every drop of juice out in seconds per lemon.
- Likewise, use only the freshest free-range eggs. The difference will show in the flavour. Put the very fresh, excellent eggs into the top of a double-boiler or heatproof bowl.
- Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and stir into the eggs with a whisk.
- Add simmering hot stock in a thin steady stream, while continuing to stir with the whisk and keeping the egg from congealing on the bowl.
- Keep stirring until the sauce thickens slightly (for a thicker sauce, use less stock relative to the egg/lemon mixture. When the sauce is cooked and properly stirred, it will change from the bright gold it originally was, to a paler, creamier yellow.
- At this point, just before removing from the heat, stir in a bit of finely minced dill.