I was once complimented on my grape leaf rolling skills by an older lady at our church. This was a woman that prepared pans full of perfectly rolled bundles, and made sure everyone saw how good hers were. I was flattered!
Really, it isn’t hard to do. I usually do a big batch once a year using fresh grape leaves from my vines. Grape leaves can also be found in jars or cans at delis that sell Mediterranean or Middle Eastern foods. My taste preference is for the fresh, but prepackaged leaves allow you the freedom to make these whenever you want!
There are a variety of fillings that can be used, but I chose to make a meatless version this time, taking advantage of spring’s fresh herbs instead. This particular recipe is perfect for appetizers, a side dish, or the main star of the meal. The fact that it is meatless also makes it perfect for serving during the various Lenten periods throughout the year observed by Orthodox Christians. For an extra kick, you can top these with avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce, recipe here!
Dolmades (Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice & Herbs) Recipe
The pictures show a double recipe. I freeze the extras for later eating. They should be allowed to defrost and then can be served cold or hot. You can break this process up into smaller tasks if time requires!
- 1 lb. prepared grape leaves, fresh or canned (see my post for harvesting and preparing fresh leaves here!)
- 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. onion, diced
- 3-4 large cloves of garlic
- 1 c. uncooked white rice (not quick cooking)
- 2 c. water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 c. sliced green onion
- 1 c. packed chopped fresh dill
- 1 c. packed chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 c. lemon juice
- 4-6 c. chicken broth, (vegetable broth or water can also be used for a meat free option), heated to boiling
- avgolemono sauce for serving
If using fresh grape leaves, be sure to properly prepare them first (instructions here). If using canned leaves, remove them from the container and presoak them in water to remove some of the brine they will be stored in. Drain them in a colander before using, and make sure the stems have been completely clipped off.
Put the olive oil and onions in a large pan set on high heat. Sauté until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes more. Add the rice, water, and salt and mix all together. Turn the heat down to low and simmer until the rice has absorbed the water, about 10-15 minutes. The rice will not be completely cooked through.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the dill and parsley. Allow the mixture to cool. Taste and adjust salt as desired. At this point, you can package the filling up and put it either into the refrigerator or freezer if you don’t wish to finish the grape leaves all at once. Just allow it to reach room temperature first.
Put a drizzle of oil into the bottom of a stock pot. Lay down some of your grape leaves in the pot to cover the bottom. This helps keep your rolls from sticking to the pot. Lay a grape leaf, shiny side down, onto a smooth work surface. Place about a tablespoon of filling onto the leaf. Follow the pictures to see how the leaf should be rolled. You want the leaf to completely contain the rice filling, otherwise the filling will spill out during cooking. You also want to wrap them somewhat tightly, but not so tight that they tear. Don’t be too generous or too stingy with filling. Once you do a few, you will get the hang of it, trust me! No one is born knowing how to roll dolmades! If you have small leaves, or leaves with deep lobes or holes, you can use multiple leaves to make a solid surface.
Once you have rolled up the filling, place the roll in the pot with the seam side down to help keep the roll from unraveling. Place remaining rolls in the pot and make sure they are all snug and close together. The rice will expand more during cooking and if your rolls aren’t close enough together they may split. You can have multiple layers of dolmades in your pot, but don’t have more than three levels or they will not cook evenly.
Drizzle the lemon juice over the top layer of your rolls. Add the hot broth or water to the pot until the top layer of dolmades are covered. Quickly cover the top with a heavy object like a plate to keep the dolmades submerged.
Put the pot on the stove and set the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Cover the pot and cook the dolmades for an hour, checking occassionally to make sure that the top layer remains submerged. If too much liquid is absorbed, add some more broth to keep them covered. Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool until the rolls can be easily handled. Take out the plate and carefully remove each roll. They will be delicate so be patient. I find it easiest to use a couple of spoons to help lift them out. Place them on a plate.
The remaining broth can be used for making another dish like soup or in place of some of the water for a really tasty rice, so don’t toss it! You can put it into a container in the freezer for later use. Usually, this leftover broth is used to make avgolemono sauce (Greek egg and lemon sauce) which is then poured over the dolmades. You could also serve them with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice. They can be eaten hot or cold, and can be frozen for later eating.