Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Earlier this week, I put up a post about how to collect and can your own grape leaves. The inevitable follow-up is what to do with those leaves once you have them.

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

    vegan, gluten-free
    fills about 30-35 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

  • Dressing:
  • 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.

Making the Filling

Start 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 Leaves

Start 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.
Gently pull one leaf from the stack, careful not to tear it. The best place to pull from is near the stems. Lay the leaf out flat on a cutting board or plate, with the more textured underside up and the stem closest to you. Spoon about 1 heaped tablespoon of filling onto the leaf near the stem, parallel to you. You can adjust this amount to the size of the leaf as you get a better sense of how the filling affects rolling. Fold over the sides of the leaf at the edge of the filling.
Begin rolling at the stem end, closest to you. Fold the very bottom over the filling and tuck back gently as you roll towards the tip of the leaf. You want a fairly tight cylinder, with no filling showing, but don't try to roll it too tight or you run the risk of splitting the leaf. The wet leaf should stick to itself and keep the roll sealed.

Dress and simmer the stuffed leaves

Place 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):


  1. oh wow, really unique & delicious recipe - thanks for sharing!

  2. A great recipe I can't wait to try out. I love Stuffed Grape Leaves and those adventurous enough to try them! I wish more would.

    I came up with my own version of a Stuffed Grape Leaves, inline with an Arab style. While different from your own, I think mine is a unique take on the dish. I'm new to the Food Blog scene and would love some feedback from a pro like you. Check out my recipe if have time.



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