Dolma (also known as dolmades) are lemony little bundles of rice wrapped in grape vine leaves. They’re great finger food or part of a traditional Middle Eastern style mezze platter.
I’ve enjoyed dolma (also known as dolmades) in countless Middle Eastern restaurants over the years, and also bought the canned version to enjoy at home. Dolma are made with grape vine leaves wrapped around a rice-based filling then cooked and chilled.
They’re pretty pricey to buy, considering how basic the ingredients are. So when I was outside pruning the excess leaves and shoots from my home grape vine recently, I thought how hard can dolma really be to make from scratch? The answer is, not very hard at all.
If you have a grape vine, or access to one, I really recommend giving these a go. They’re delicious and there’s great satisfaction in making something so good from incredibly basic pantry ingredients and garden prunings that would otherwise go in the compost.
Grape vine leaves are naturally nutritious too. They’re very high in calcium, fibre, manganese, magnesium, vitamin A and B6, as well as being a good source of iron and vitamin C.
I’m no expert on dolma, so I went on a Google mission to research them and based my method and recipe on a few good articles from My Pantry Shelf, Mama’s Taverna, Ellen’s Kitchen and Food.com. Variations on dolma fillings are endless, but the key flavours seem to be lemon and mint, with the optional additions of sweet spices, nuts, dried fruit, lentils and meat. I went with a rice mixture that’s flecked with lentils, almonds, mint and lemon zest. Cumin and cinnamon in the background balance it out beautifully.
Choose grape vine leaves that are about the size of your hand or a little smaller. Too big and they’ll be tough. They should be smooth and supple to feel. I gather that they’re better picked in spring, but it’s mid-summer here and mine still came out great.
To prepare the leaves, trim the stems completely off (I used kitchen scissors). Give them a thorough wash and ensure there are no insects or dirt remaining. I then made a tidy stack of them, plunged the whole lot into salted boiling water for 30 seconds then removed to a colander to drain and cool. Once blanched they’ll change colour to a murky khaki green – this is fine. At this stage you can continue to make dolma, or preserve the leaves (I’ll give that a go some time in the future).
Wrapping the leaves is very easy. They’re quite sturdy so there’s not a lot of risk in tearing or otherwise breaking them. You can be quite firm with them, which helps to roll a nice tight little bundle around your rice filling. Tight is good as you don’t want them to unravel later.
Start by placing the rice mixture where the stem would have been, then simply fold up the bottom edges, fold in the sides, then roll away from you into a tight cylinder.
Tightly pack the rolled dolma into a wide saucepan or skillet, lined with a few big grape vine leaves. This will stop the dolma from sticking or scorching when cooking.
Add the cooking liquids and a plate to hold the dolma down, then cover and gently cook. Once they’re done the rice, lentils and vine leaves will all be tender. The bundles are a little loose to handle when they’re hot, but they firm up and hold their shape beautifully once chilled.
Dolma are usually served cold, and are perfect alongside Middle Eastern favourites like hummus, taboulleh, flat breads, olives and tomato salad. Go on and add a cold beer too. Happy days.
Rice and lentil dolma
For the dolma:
- 25 grape vine leaves
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup long grain white rice
- 1 tbsp green lentils
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp vegetable stock powder, (I used Vegeta)
- 1 1/4 cups boiling water
- 1 tbsp slivered almonds
- 1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
- 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
For the cooking liquid:
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 cups boiling water
For the dolma:
- Begin by preparing your grape vine leaves. Trim off the stems completely, and wash the leaves well. Arrange them in a tidy stack. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, then plunge the whole pile of leaves in for 30 seconds (use kitchen tongs to hold them under the water). Use tongs to remove them to a colander to drain and cool. You should be able to do this in one go.
- Next, move on to preparing the filling. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a wide saucepan or skillet. Add onions and cook over a medium heat until soft.
- Add rice, lentils, cumin, cinnamon, salt and stock powder. Stir to combine and cook for a minute or two.
- Add 1 1/4 cups boiling water, give it a quick stir through then turn the heat down to low and cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes the liquid should be gone and the rice should be about half cooked.
- Add the almonds, mint and lemon zest and stir through.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
- Line a wide saucepan (must have a lid) with 3-4 large grape vine leaves. These will stop the dolma sticking or scorching while cooking.
- Now it's time to roll the dolma. Place a leaf in front of you, rough (back) side up and stem end closest to you. Spoon a heaped teaspoon of filling onto the area where the stem used to be. Fold up the bottom edges (those closest to you), fold in the sides, then roll away from you into a tight little cylinder.
- Put each dolma into the bottom of the lined saucepan as you go, nestling them into each other snugly so that they don't unwrap while cooking. This recipe was just right for me to cover the bottom of my stock pot with one layer of dolma. If your pot is smaller, or you've made more, just stack another layer on top.
- When you're done rolling and packing dolma, squeeze the juice of a lemon over them, drizzle with the olive oil and pour over two cups of boiling water. Sit a small plate on top of the dolma to weigh them down, then put on the lid and cook over a low heat for 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, carefully remove the plate (use tongs) and remove one dolma to check (cook's treat). The rice should be tender - if not, put the plate back in, lid on and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Mine were ready after 45 minutes, with just a little cooking liquid left around them.
- Once done, remove to a covered dish and refrigerate until chilled. Once chilled they will firm up and hold their shape well.