Stuffed grape leaves feature in cuisines from southern Europe to Central Asia, though the most common names dolma and sarma come from Turkish (dolmak, "to stuff"; sarmak, "to wrap") — another testament to the broad, long-lasting impact of the Silk Road. Many of these cultures alternately use the same fillings in cabbage leaves.The fillings vary slightly from place to place, but are typically some combination of a grain, like rice or bulgur, and protein, like ground meat or lentils. From there, fillings diverge widely. Some include vegetables like tomato and zucchini. Others focus on adding dried fruits and nuts. They are served in a range of sauces, the most common being based around tomato, yogurt or lemon.
In the interest of feeding a broad group cheaply, my go-to grape leaf filling is based around rice and red lentils. Lentils and rice are about as cheap as protein gets. I specifically use red lentils, which are available in most supermarkets, because they have a similar cooking time to rice. You can use brown lentils if that's what you have, but you would want to parcook them more than the rice and beyond just a quick soak. I also usually include onion, raisins and mint, and simmer the stuffed leaves in a lemon and olive-oil dressing.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
- 2/3 c. white rice
- 2/3 c. red lentils
- 2 c. hot water
- 1-2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 medium or ½ large onion, small dice
- 1/2 c. rasins, roughly chopped
- 1½ tsp. cumin seed
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- 3-4 sprigs fresh mint
- ¼ c. lemon juice
- 1 T salt
- ¼ c. olive oil
- water to cover
- Alternately, if I'm using home-brined leaves using the 1 c. water : ¼ c. lemon juice : 1 T. salt brine ratio, I use the cup of brine in the jar and then add enough water to cover the rolled leaves in the pan.
fills about 30-35 grape leaves
Making the FillingStart by soaking the rice and lentils in the hot water. They should soak at least 15 minutes, but the time it takes to prep the other parts of the filling is usually sufficient.
While the rice and lentils are soaking, dice the onion and begin sauteeing it over a medium high heat in a little olive oil. Once the onions start to get soft, add the cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Roughly chop the raisins and add them to the onions. Take the mint leaves off of the stems, roll tightly, cut into thin ribbons and add to filling. Strain the rice and lentils and add them to the onions, raisins and spices. Remove from heat and stir.
Rolling the Grape LeavesStart by taking the grape leaves out of the brine and unrolling them. Depending on how salty the brine is, you might want to rinse off the stack of leaves.
Dress and simmer the stuffed leavesPlace the rolled leaves into a wide-bottomed pan in a single layer. You can pack them in pretty tightly, they don't really need room to expand. Dissolve salt in lemon juice or pour brine over, then add water so that rolls are just covered. Drizzle the olive oil over the top to distribute evenly.
Cover pan (lid doesn't need to be tight - I use my widest skillet and my wok lid, which don't quite match) and start on high heat. When it starts bubbling aggressively, turn down to med-low heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. This is much the same process as cooking rice, because that's essentially what you're doing. Let cool as long as you can stand it before gobbling them down.
More Grape Leaf Recipes by Country (by no means exhaustive):
- Azeri Style (lamb/rice filling, garlicky yogurt sauce)
- Kurdish Style (arborio rice/tomato/fresh herb filling, lemon dressing)
- Israeli Style (beef/rice/tomato filling, lemon/pomegranate dressing)
- Iraqi Style (heavily spiced lamb/rice/tomato, lemon dressing)
- Persian Style (rice/beef/split pea, lemon/vinegar dressing)
- Armenian Style (rice/tomato/pine nut)
- Lebanese Style (bulgur/chick pea/tomato)
- Uzbek style (lamb/rice/egg)
- Diane Kochilas doesn't offer a recipe per se, but offers in-depth description of the many Greek traditions of stuffed leaves, varied by occasion and region.