Grape leaves are in abundance this time of year in Turkey. These leafy green vines are a staple in every local’s yard. They snake along stone walls and twist their way around metal arbors.
Many countries have claimed dolma – stuffed grape leaves – as their own. During a trip through Greece a few years ago, my sister and I took a cooking class where we learned how to make dolma and our teacher proudly exclaimed this food originated in Greece. But Iran, Iraq, Armenia, and Turkey all have their own version of dolma too. This recipe below is how my Iranian mother-in-law makes her dolma or dolmeh barge mo.
Fresh Leaves or Jarred Leaves?
If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on fresh grape leaves, choose leaves with no holes or tears that are medium-sized (about 5 inches across). You’ll need to blanch your leaves first. To do this, pile all the leaves in a medium-sized pot and pour in just enough water to almost cover the top of the leaf pile. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Grape leaves from a jar will work perfectly fine. I’ve found jarred leaves in the international section of the grocery store. Simply remove all the leaves from the jar, rinse under cold water. Then bring a pot of water to boil, throw the leaves in, turn off the heat, and let leaves steep in the hot water for 30 minutes.
A Word on Rice
Dolmas are pretty versatile and can be eaten hot or cold (I like cold best). They also can be stuffed with anything, really. For this recipe, we stuffed the grape leaves with seasoned ground beef and rice.
You need to have already prepared your rice before starting the first step. Cook 1 cup of rice either on the stovetop, in a rice cooker, or in the instant pot. Just make sure to cook your rice parboiled. This means the rice should be al dente – still a little crunchy in the middle. The rice will continue to cook once the stuffed grape leaves are steamed. You should end up with about 3 cups of parboiled rice.
How to Roll a Grape Leaf
This part is always a little intimidating in the beginning, but it’s super easy once you get the hang of it. The series of photos below show the more traditional way of rolling dolma. Turks and Greeks do it this way.
The Persian way is much simpler: place a half a spoonful of beef and rice mixture in the center of the leaf. Then fold in every side over the mixture to create more of a circular shape. I don’t have a photo of the steps, but the photo below shows how they should look in the end.
1 bunch dill, finely chopped
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 bunch tarragon, finely chopped
1 small onion
1 garlic clove (or more to taste)
1/2 pound ground beef
1 tsp turmeric
red pepper flakes, pinch
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups parboiled basmati rice (1 cup of uncooked rice)
1 16oz jar of grape leaves or about 40 fresh grape leaves
1.5 cups of water
1 Tbl granulated sugar
1 Tbl vinegar (white or apple cider or lemon juice)
Meat and Rice Mixture:
1. After blanching the fresh leaves (or rinsing the jarred leaves) cut off any hard stems with scissors or knife. If you haven’t started cooking the rice, do so now.
2. Chop the onion and mince the garlic.
3. Put chopped onion into a skillet with cooking oil. Cook on medium heat until soft and translucent. Add minced garlic.
4. Add ground beef, turmeric, salt, and black and red pepper. Cook meat until no longer red.
5. Add 1 1/2 cups of the chopped fresh herbs to the meat. (Freeze any leftover herbs to use at a later time. Stirred into plain yogurt is delicious!)
6. Stir together the meat mixture and parboiled rice.
Stuffing the Grape Leaves:
1. Place oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Then line the bottom with a single layer of grape leaves so the entire bottom surface is covered. This will prevent the stuffed dolma from burning on the bottom.
2. Take a single grape leaf and place it flat, vein side up. Put 1/2 tablespoon of the meat and rice mixture at the bottom center of the leaf. Fold the bottom part of the leaf over the mixture. Then fold in the left and right sides of the leaf towards to center. Roll the leaf from the bottom to the top, keeping the sides tucked in as you go.
3. Add the stuffed grape leaves to the pot, stacking them evenly and tightly. The mixture should make about 35 stuffed leaves in total.
4. In a small bowl, stir together water, sugar, and vinegar. Pour over all the stuffed leaves in the pot. This mixture helps to balance out the bitterness in the grape leaves.
5. Place a dinner plate (one slightly smaller than the circumference of the pot) face side down over the stuffed grape leaves. Gently press down on the leaves. This will help keep the dolmas in place while steaming. Cover the pot with a lid.
6. On low heat, let the dolma steam for about 30 min.
7. When the dolma is soft and warm, take off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Eat warm or put it in the refrigerator to eat cold.