Each spring the family gathers together to participate in their most beloved activity: harvesting grape leaves. They pretty much hate it.
Now, it’s important to note that they love what happens with the grape leaves, but the harvesting part is not their favorite thing. It is a bit tedious, but in the end the work is worth it. I’ll prepare several hundred leaves, some of which I’ll roll up right away, the rest get packaged up for the freezer to enjoy later.
Most traditional fillings for grape leaves use rice and herbs, and sometimes some type of ground meat. Really, the variations are endless, but I’ve always been a fan of the flavor that tomatoes bring. The grape leaves have a lemony flavor that goes well with tangy tomato sauce. Bring it all together with rice and ground beef or pork and it’s a marriage made in heaven!
Rolling grape leaves isn’t hard, really. Once you get the hang of it, they go pretty quickly. Another good thing to know is that your cooked dolmades can be frozen for later enjoyment! Just allow them to defrost completely first, and then you can easily heat them up in the microwave or in a covered casserole dish in the oven. A little bit of time now, a lot of enjoyment later! Win-win!
Dolmades (Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves with Tomato and Meat Filling) Recipe
- 1 large onion (1/2 to 3/4 lb.), diced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 5 to 6 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 15 oz can seasoned tomato sauce
- 1 3/4 lb. ground beef or pork
- 3 Tbsp. dried parsley
- 1 1/4 cup white rice, any variety except quick-cooking
- 1 cup water
- salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind other ingredients that will already have salt)
- prepared grape leaves, canned or homemade (see my post on how to make your own here!)
- 1/2 cup lemon juice, fresh or bottled
- up to 1 quart hot broth (chicken, pork, or beef)
- Avgolemono Sauce for serving (click here for the recipe)
Saute the onions in the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat until translucent and just beginning to turn a little brown. Add garlic and saute a minute more. Add the tomato sauce, meat, and parsley. Break the meat up well in the mixture and cook until the meat is nearly done.
Add the rice and water and mix well. Continue to cook for just a few minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and cover. Allow the mixture to cool for 20 to 30 minutes. The rice will not be completely cooked. If time is an issue, the filling can be refrigerated or even frozen at this time to allow you to finish later.
If you are using canned or jarred grape leaves, you will want to remove them from the container and rinse them to remove any excess salt. Allow the leaves to drain in a colander. You will also want to snip any part of a stem that still remains as they will poke holes in your leaves.
If you are not familiar with the grape leaf rolling process, please see my other dolmades recipe by clicking here for complete instructions along with pictures. The cooking directions are also exactly the same.
If you have leftover filling, turn it into a soup! A little broth and a splash of lemon juice is all you need. I’ll also chop up any leaves that may have been torn or not the right size. Just heat it all through until the rice is cooked. You could also throw in a little avgolemono sauce. Leftover leaves can be refrigerated for a few days, or even frozen. They will be brittle when frozen so be sure to allow them to completely defrost in the refrigerator
Once your dolmades are cooked, carefully remove the plate or other object you used to hold them down, and gently remove the rolls to a platter. I find this easiest to do using a couple of spoons.
These are good hot, cold, or anywhere in between. Serve them with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon, or better yet, make a batch of avgolemono sauce with the broth from the pot. This egg and lemon sauce adds a creamy touch to an already delicious treat. If you choose to not make the sauce, keep the broth for making soup, or a tasty rice. You can freeze it until you’re ready to use it. Enjoy!!