The ubiquitous term in various cultures for stuffed grape leaves is Dolma. This is actually a dish of many names and variations. This version features a savory meat and rice filling! Top it with a creamy yogurt and garlic sauce, and you’ll surely fall in love with these wrapped morsels.
Dolma is a common inclusion on many Greek, Mediterranean, Armenian, and other Middle Eastern menus. Consequently, the most frequent occurrence of dolma is in the form of stuffed grape leaves, but the term refers to so much more. Often the word dolma describes all stuffed grape leaves and vegetables, cold or hot, vegetarian or meat-filled. Let’s take a deeper dive into the various nomenclatures for this universally beloved dish!
Here’s a little vocabulary lesson. The majority of terms used to described stuffed vegetables and grape leaves derives from the Turkish language. This is likely because the Turks have instilled their influence (rather aggressively) on neighboring cultures. In doing so, their language describes many recipes that they are not necessary responsible for creating. Unfortunately this is a side effect of this region’s war-ravaged history.
In Turkish, yalanchi means “fake.” It refers to grape leaves that do not contain meat. They are, therefore, fake stuffed grape leaves. If they are filled with meat, they are often called “dolma” (which means “stuffed” in Turkish). This term can also refer to stuffed peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, etc. My family makes dolma with lots of different vegetables. The word “sarma” means “wrapped” and refers to both the meat and non-meat filled grape leaves. These are wrapped with grape leaves or cabbage leaves, hence the term. Yalanchi is always served cold, while dolma is served hot. Sarma refers to the wrapping process and describes both cold and hot versions. For the sake of argument the meat and rice filled version I’m sharing today can be called dolma and sarma. Although sarma is probably the more accurate term, dolma is the more common one.
Where to find or purchase grape leaves
Luckily a family member of ours has grape vines in her yard. Every summer my family picks fresh grape leaves, trims the stems, lines them up, wraps them in bundles with string, and blanches them in boiling water. We then cool and freeze the grape leaf bundles until needed. Fresh grape leaves may not be accessible to most of you. Fortunately preserved grape leaves are now readily available. You can purchase them in jars at Middle Eastern grocery stores and other specialty stores, such as Restaurant Depot. Amazon also sells preserved grape leaves.
How to make dolma
Once you have procured your preserved grape leaves, you’re ready to get started! The first step to making dolma is making the meat and rice filling. Although I’m sure some people use ground lamb, my family prefers beef. You’re welcome to use either based on your preference. In a large mixing bowl add the ground meat and sprinkle the top with salt, paprika, and black pepper. Then add the mild pepper paste if you’re using it, chopped onion, rice, parsley, tomato paste, and lemon juice.
Mix until thoroughly combined.
Now you’re ready to assemble your dolma. Lay out a grape leave one at a time on a work surface with the underside (veiny side) facing up. Add about 1 tablespoon of filling to the edge closest to the stem (STEP 1 IN PHOTO). If your grape leaves are rather large, you may need more filling. Next, roll the bottom of the grape leave up to cover the filling (STEP 2 IN PHOTO). Fold over the sides like you would a burrito (STEP 3 IN PHOTO), and then continue rolling until sealed closed (STEP 4 IN PHOTO). The photos below feature the vegetarian filling, but the process of rolling the grape leaves is identical.
Arrange the dolma in a 9-by-13-inch pan, lining them up 2 layers high. If you have extra unwrapped grape leaves, lay them across the top of the others, like a blanket. Pour water over the top, then cover with a piece of parchment paper and then foil. Bake until the filling is cooked through and the rice is tender. Cool for a few minutes, and then serve dolma with yogurt and garlic sauce.
Please note that while many people cook their dolma on the stove-top in a deep pot, this version bakes it in the oven. There is no right or wrong way, but my family just prefers to do it this way, and it works just fine. It’s also a bit easier to arrange the dolma in a rectangular pan than in a round pot, but this is just our preference.
Other recipes you may like
- Yalanchi (Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves)
- Armenian Meatball Soup
- Armenian Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- Chi Kofte (Armenian Steak Tartare)
- Roza’s Tas Kebab
- Ishli Kofte (Stuffed Kofte)
Do you prefer your stuffed grape leaves with meat filling or vegetarian filling? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to rate this recipe if you’ve tried it. Thanks!
Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves with Meat and Rice)
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon mild pepper paste (optional)
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 cup medium grain rice rinsed
- 1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
Assembly & Cooking
- 110 to 120 preserved grape leaves rinsed, stems removed, and squeezed dry
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped or crushed
- 2 tablespoons water or as desired
- Kosher salt
- In a large mixing bowl add the ground beef and season with salt, paprika, and black pepper. Then add the remaining filling ingredients, and mix with a large spoon or your hands until thoroughly combined.
- Lay the grape leaves with the underneath-side (the less smooth side with the visible veins) facing up, and place about 1 tablespoon of filling (or more depending on the size of the leaves) along the stem end of each leaf, fold over the sides, and roll from the stem up to form a sausage-like roll. Repeat with the remaining grape leaves.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and arrange the rack in the center of the oven.
- Arrange the grape leaves in a 9-by-13-inch pan, lining them up 2 layers high. If you have extra unwrapped grape leaves, lay them across the top of the others. This will prevent the grape leaves from getting too dry or dark when baked. Pour water over the top.
- Cover the pan with parchment paper, and then a layer of foil. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 degrees F and continue to bake for another 30 to 35 minutes until the rice is completely tender (taste one to be sure). Cool the grape leaves in the pan for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot.
- While the grape leaves are in the oven, make the yogurt-garlic sauce by combining the yogurt, garlic, salt, and water (the amount of water is really optional, depending on your preferred consistency–thick versus thinner sauce). Drizzle the sauce over each serving of grape leaves.
Notes & Nutrition
- There are various brands of mild pepper paste that may be available at Middle Eastern markets. You can also find mild pepper paste online.
- If you have different sizes of grape leaves (in your jar or from your own picking/canning) use the smaller grape leaves for these dolma. Save the large ones for making yalanchi!
- Please note that while many people cook their dolma on the stove-top in a deep pot, this version bakes it in the oven. There is no right or wrong way, but my family just prefers to do it this way, and it works just fine. It’s also a bit easier to arrange the grape leaves in a rectangular pan than in a round pot, but this is just our preference.